Ictalurus punctatusCatfish(Also: Graceful catfish)

Geographic Range

The native range of Ictalurus punctatus is the Neartic in lower Canada and throughout the midwest of the United States. Channel catfish have been introduced in the Palearctic in Cyprus, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain (Elvira, 2001) as well as Malaysia (FFRC, 2004). ("The Department of Fisheries Malaysia and FFRC", 2004; Elvira, 2001)


Channel catfish can live in both fresh and salt water and brackish water yet they are generally found in freshwater environments. Ictalurus punctatus are found in many bodies of water such as lakes, reservoirs and ponds and also in areas of moving water such as streams, creeks and rivers. The depth at which they are found varies but during most of the day they are found in deep holes, overhangs, other various locations that provide shelter or are at the bottom of a body of water. The surfaces at the bottoms of these bodies range from rocky, sandy and gravelly but channel catfish prefer muddy surface bottoms and clear water (eNature.com and Inc, 2003; State of Tennessee, 2004). ("National wildlife federation", 2003; "Fisheries Management Division of Tennessee", 2004; Wellburn, 1988)

  • Range depth
    0 to 0 m
    0.00 to 0.00 ft

Physical Description

Ictalurus punctatus is a bilaterally symmetrical ray-finned fish without scales. The difference between channel catfish and other U. S. catfishes is the deeply forked caudal fin with the top of the fin larger than the bottom portion. The channel catfish is speckled, with a darker back to a light whitish belly, but the color can vary from blue, black or olive. Generally in muddy water they are olive to yellowish white and in clear water they are blacker in color. There are two barbels on the upper jaw (maxilla) and four on the lower jaw (mandible). They have 24 to 29 rays in the anal fin. The upper jaw protrudes in front of the lower jaw. The dorsal and pectoral fins have hard spines whereas the other rays are soft like the anal and caudal fins. Males generally have larger heads than females and males are darker in body color than females. There is little difference anatomically between young and old fish other than size, but at very early age channel catfish lack pigmentation (Wang, 1996). (Dorman and Torrans, 1977; "National wildlife federation", 2003; Rafinesque Esq., 1818; Wellburn, 1988)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Average mass
    0.9-1.8 kg
  • Average mass
    13732.5 g
    483.96 oz
  • Average length
    36 to 53 cm


After fertilization the eggs are protected and also aerated by the male. The eggs are adhesive and their size ranges from 2.4 to 3.0 mm in diameter (Chapman 2000). The temperature of the water determines how long before the eggs are hatched. If the water is 24 to 26 °C hatching takes 7 to 10 days but if the water is 24 °C it takes 6 days (Wang 1996). Optimally the eggs will hatch in 4-6 days at 25-27 °C (Chapman 2000).

The yolk sac is still present in the larval stage, and it is still large in comparison to the larvae in this stage. The larvae do not have teeth or pigment. They remain close to the nest at first but then move into shallow waters.

The next stage is the juvenile; these individuals are found in shallow waters and generally only have up to 10 rays on the pectoral fins. Juveniles stay together for several days or weeks and feed on small invertebrates. When an adult channel catfish reaches about 6 months the sex is distinguishable. Between the age of two and three years they are able to reproduce (Chapman, 2000). (Chapman, 2000; Dorman and Torrans, 1977; Wang, 1996)


Ictalurus punctatus is monogamous and has an extensive courtship behavior that might only last one mating season. The male and female mate in the summer but the relationship is established earlier in the year. Mating takes place when the male swims along the female in the opposite direction. Their tails wrap around the others head to begin mating. When the male’s body shivers the female is stimulated and the eggs and milt are released. The mass of eggs is deposited in a nest built by the female or by both the male and the female. After mating has occurred the male chases away the female and then guards the eggs until they hatch (Mayhew, 1987). (Mayhew, 1987)

Channel catfish spawn in the summer. After hatching the juveniles take from two days to two weeks until they are independent. Channel catfish make nests in hidden places, for example, in enclosed cans, under overhangs or in deep holes that provide extra protection from predators (Chapman, 2004; Northwest Power and Concervation Council-Subbasin Planning, 2004). ("Northwest Power and Conservation Council-Subbasin Planning", 2004; Chapman, 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Spawning occurs in the summer, May through July.
  • Range number of offspring
    3,000 to 50,000
  • Range time to hatching
    4 to 10 days
  • Range time to independence
    0.5 to 4 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 to 3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 years

Channel catfish parents invest a lot into their offspring. After spawning the male chases the female away from the nest, but she does not leave completely. She will protect her eggs from a distance. The male and female will attack predators and chase them away with an open mouth but will not eat them. The male also provides the juveniles with a source of food by burrowing, a process where the fish swim down into the mud on the bottom of the body of water and thrash from side to side stirring up food particles for the offspring to eat (McKaye et al., 1994). The female also provides food for the juveniles by positioning her body about a meter above the nest and then releasing eggs for the juveniles to eat. Together the male and female provide protection and food for their young (Vallentgoed, 2004). (McKaye, et al., 1994; Vallentgoed, 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The life expectancy of a channel catfish is around 14 years old but they can exceed this number. In captivity the channel catfish is generally harvested after 2 years (Wellburn, 1988). (Wellburn, 1988)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    40 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    14 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    16 years


Ictalurus punctatus are solitary except during mating courtship and protection of young. They are active during the night, moving around and finding food after dusk. During the day they will be most likely found in deep water with little activity. There is no clear cut home range for channel catfish. Like many river fish, channel catfish will migrate up and down stream (Northwest Power and Conservation Council-Subbasin Planning, 2004). ("Northwest Power and Conservation Council-Subbasin Planning", 2004)

Communication and Perception

Taste buds are found on the interior of the mouth and over the body of the fish. The channel catfish responds to food sources through its ability to sense various amino acids in their environment, allowing them to differentiate among prey (Caprio et al., 1993). Another characteristic of channel catfish is the ability to hear sounds. With the help of the Weberian apparatus, which connects the swimbladder to the ear, they are able to amplify vibrations coming from the swimbladder (Vance and Connaughton, 2002). The pectoral spine moves in the pectoral girdle to create sound. Various frequencies can be produced which could be the source of communication to nearby channel catfish or other organisms (Vance, 2000). (Caprio, et al., 1993; Vance and Connaughton, 2002; Vance, 2000)

Food Habits

Ictalurus punctatus can be thought of as one large mouth because there are taste buds located all over their body. The olfactory system is used mostly in consumption of food. Adult channel catfish, over 45 cm, consume fishes such as yellow perch and sunfish. The diet of adults consists of snails, algae, snakes, frogs, insects, aquatic plants, and even birds occasionally. Younger channel catfish are more consistently omnivorous, eating a large variety of plants and animals (Northwest, 2004). ("Northwest Power and Conservation Council-Subbasin Planning", 2004; Wellburn, 1988)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • other marine invertebrates
  • zooplankton


The spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins are great anti-predator devices. A predator trying to eat a channel catfish could get impaled by a spine. Only large fish are capable of eating a channel catfish. The darker color of the channel catfish helps camouflage it in the bottom of a clear river, but in muddy water visibility is minimal and this would have less of an anti-predator adaptation. Juvenile catfish have many predators, including many birds, other carnivorous fishes and some insects. Also channel catfish eggs are an easy source of food for many animals but the protection from the parents enables the success of the future offspring (Northwest Power and Conservation Council-Subbasin Planning, 2004). ("Northwest Power and Conservation Council-Subbasin Planning", 2004)

Ecosystem Roles

The channel catfish is neither commensal nor mutualist partner with other species. Ictalurus punctatus is mainly a predator and prey. Freshwater mussels, both commerical species and species of concern, may use Ictalurus punctatus as a host. The following freshwater mussels have been found to metamorphose on Ictalurus punctatus in lab trials: Anodonta suborbiculata, Arcidens confragosus, Cyclonaias tuberculata, Lampsilis hydiana, Megalonaias nervosa, Quadrula asperata, Quadrula fragosa, Quadrula nobilis, Quadrula pustulosa, and Strophitus undulatus. (Cummings and Watters, 2004)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Farm raising of channel catfish for food is a multimillion dollar business (Burden, 2004). (Burden, 2004)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of channel catfish on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List, CITES appendices, and the US Endangered Species Act list the status of Ictalurus punctatus as not significant or not present, meaning there is no threat of this species going extinct.

Other Comments

The original scientific name was Ictalurus punctatus but it has been changed to Ictalurus punctatus. The original description was made in 1818 by Samuel Rafinesque. The text of the document is quoted next, “Mud-catfish…Sp 8. Ictalurus punctatus, Raf. Body whitish with gilt shades and many brown unequal dots on the sides, 8 barbs, 4 underneath, 2 lateral long and black, dorsal fin 7 rays, 1 spiny pectoral fins 6 rays, 1 spiny, anal 27 rays, later line a little curved beneath at the base, tail forked unequal upper lobe longer (Rafinesque Esq., 1818). (Rafinesque Esq., 1818)


David Schoonover (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, William Fink (editor, instructor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Renee Sherman Mulcrone (editor).



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


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Chapman, F. 2000. "University of Florida IFAS Extension" (On-line). Farm-raised Channel Catfish. Accessed October 25, 2004 at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/BODY_FA010.

Cummings, K., G. Watters. 2004. "Mussel/Host Database" (On-line). The Ohio State University Division of Molluscs. Accessed November 19, 2004 at

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Elvira, B. 2001. Identification of non-native freshwater fishes established in Europe and assessment of their potential threats to the biological diversity. CONVENTION ON THE CONSERVATION OF EUROPEAN WILDLIFE, 21 meeting: 15, 23, 27,30-32. Accessed October 24, 2004 at http://www.sns.dk/nobanis/word-filer/Bern-fish%20identification.doc..

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McKaye, K., D. Mughogho, J. Stauffer Jr.. 1994. Sex-role differentiation in feeding and defence of young by biparental catfish,<Bagrus meridionalis>. Animal Behaviour, 48: 587-596.

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Vallentgoed, T. 2004. "McMaster University" (On-line). Catfish. Accessed October 25, 2004 at http://www.science.mcmaster.ca/Biology/Harbour/SPECIES/CATFISH/CATFISH.HTM.

Vance, T. 2000. Variability in stridulatory sound production in the channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus. Bios, 71/3: 79-84.

Vance, T., D. Connaughton. 2002. "An anatomical study of the Weberian apparatus in the channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus." (On-line). Accessed October 25, 2004 at http://martin.connaughton.washcoll.edu/research.activities/student_abstracts/98vance1.doc.

Wang, J. 1996. "Fishes of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary and Adjacent Waters, California: A Guide to the Early Life Histories" (On-line). Channel Catfish - Ictalurus punctatus (Rafinesque). Accessed October 25, 2004 at http://elib.cs.berkeley.edu/kopec/tr9/html/sp-channel-catfish.html.

Wellburn, T. 1988. "Channel Catfish- Life History and Biology" (On-line pdf). Accessed October 23, 2004 at http://aqua.ucdavis.edu/dbweb/outreach/aqua/180FS.PDF.