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What Do Catfish Eat? Types of Foods in Their Diet…

Written by James Schulz

Looking forward to a successful catfish haul? Or simply increase their numbers in your pond?

Knowing what catfish eat will help you in both aspects.

Catfish are opportunistic feeders, making it important to know what kinds of foods should be kept in readiness.

Let us read on to know the diets of different catfish species.

Learn About What Catfish Eat

What are the different catfish species?

There are multiple different catfish species in waters around the world.

Catfish are mostly found in clear waters of lakes and ponds, although some are found in the seas too.

It has been noted that North American waters have more than 30 varieties of catfish.

1) Blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus)

Among catfish, the blue has the longest body of 60+ inches.

They are so named for their greyish-blue coloration with a silvery belly.

They have a forked tail and four pairs of barbells around their mouths.

They love deep pools and rivers like Ohio and Mississippi. Using fresh shad will help you catch the best ones.

They are opportunistic feeders and eat almost anything.

2) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)

These are the commonest variety of catfish.

They also go by names like Mudcats, Johnny Cats, and Shovelhead Cats.

With their yellowish-brown coloration and flat head, their name is suggestive.

Even the tail is flat and squared off. Another distinguishing feature is the lower jaw jutting out.

These are big fish that prefer large habitats with fresh and slow-moving water.

Live bait works best for them but cut bait is good too.

They eat small invertebrates, worms, and crayfish among others.

3) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Highly popular among anglers, this variety is found abundantly across the USA.

They are smaller in body weight than blue or flathead catfish. Channel cats have blue-green-grey coloration with dark spots.

Their tails are deeply forked and they have barbells around the mouth.

Generally found in clear waters of lakes and ponds, some do prefer murkier habitats.

Since they are hearty eaters, baits like worms and chicken liver work well for them. They are widely eaten.

4) White catfish (Ameiurus catus)

This variety of catfish also goes by white bullhead. They are preferred for eating like channel catfish.

They look similar to flathead catfish except for forked tail.

Clean or brackish waters, they are found in the stretch from New York to Florida.

They are usually found stocked in ponds for paid fishing.

5) Yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)

This species of bullhead catfish are medium-sized fish.

People do eat it for its subtle flavor. They are yellow in color or can at times be dark black.

Its barbells are usually white in color, a distinguishing feature from other catfish.

They do very well in suboptimal water conditions as well as in clean rivers. They have an appetite for everything.

 6) Brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus).

Despite its greenish, this catfish goes by names like Mud Pout, Horn Pout, and Mud Cat.

It has spotted sides, a dark green back, and fading green-yellow towards the belly.

They have brown or yellow or black barbells. Extensively found in USA and Canada, they live in freshwater lakes and rivers. They like worms and chicken liver.

7) Black bullhead (Ictalurus melas)

This variety is not fished for food or sport. The idea is to return them back to water if accidentally caught.

It looks similar to other catfish but can be distinguished by crescent tail markings and silver markings.

They have a flat square tail and not a forked tail. They do well in not-so-clean habitats with low oxygen.

They are voracious eaters and eat almost everything. Worms and chicken liver are preferred.

8) Headwater catfish (Ictalurus lupus)

This is a rare variety of catfish that is not high on the list of game fish.

They resemble channel catfish but are much smaller and not much preferred by humans as food for this reason.

Their appearance is characterized by brown spots.

They are found in the clean waters of Rio Grande.

Live bait, punch bait, cut bait, and worms are good for headwater catfish.

9) North African catfish (Clarius gariepinus)

This is an air-breathing sharp-toothed catfish species found mostly in north African freshwater rivers and lakes.

It is a nocturnal fish that has dark grey or black coloration and an eel-like shape with sharp teeth.

It can survive in shallow mud pools or dry lake beds too for some duration.

What Do Catfish Eat?

And now, to the all-important question – what do catfish eat?

To answer this in the truest manner, it needs to be stated that there are two different categories of catfish – farm-raised catfish and wild catfish.

For those of you who are here, it can be safely assumed that you are deeply interested to catch catfish.

Whether that is for industrial purposes or simply as a sport, it is important to know certain things.

Wild catfish are all the varieties we spoke of in the earlier section that occur naturally.

Their choice of habitat is influenced by the kind of food available in the wild and vice versa.

To a large extent, how many varieties there are, to what size they grow, and what would their food preferences be, depends upon the process of natural selection.

Farmed catfish, on the other hand, are the same ones you get in the wild except that they are grown in more controlled environments.

From habitat to diet, a lot of thought and monitoring goes into it all.

Their feeding habits will be based on their preferences but modified to supplies that might not be naturally available in that particular region.

To generalize their diet, both categories of catfish are not picky eaters – which means they will eat almost anything.

From algae to crayfish, debris from dead animals, fresh food, stink baits, anything goes.

Many catfish species are known to eat other fish and even small mammals.

In fact, some saltwater catfish varieties will also feed on shrimp, blue crabs, and sea cucumbers.

  • Crayfish.
  • Snails.
  • Crabs.
  • Small fish.
  • Aquatic insects.
  • Frogs.
  • Algae
  • Phytoplankton.
  •  Detritus.
  •  Shrimps.
  •  Seagrass.
  •  Sea cucumbers.
  •  Blue crabs.
  •  Sinking pellets.
  •  Hot dogs.

Do not do a double-take when you read the last name on the list of what do catfish eat.

It has been seen that a mix of hot dogs, garlic, and cherry Kool-Aid has been found to their liking.

Even certain soaps are seen to be palatable to catfish.

What we decipher from above is that catfish are primarily carnivores that eat virtually anything at all.

We will now take a look at diets specific to certain catfish varieties.

  •   Big catfish like wels catfish live in the Ebro river and are big eaters, literally.

They eat mullets, frogs, and even small birds that end up in rivers.

  • Channel catfish are a species of catfish that like fish, insects, snails, small birds, crustaceans, and even vegetation.

Soft crab fresh bait, squid, hot dogs and chicken liver work for them.

  •   Flathead catfish feed well on crustaceans, which would be the best bait for them, they also eat small fish and insects.
  •   Blue catfish eat large invertebrates as part of their natural food.

They also eat other fish in their habitat. Fresh bait in the form of chicken liver, shrimp, cut fish, and processed bait is good for them.

  • North African catfish find food among a variety of creatures like planktons, grains, seeds, fruits, fish, snails, plant matter, and dead animals found in their habitat.

Interestingly it is the duty of the adult male catfish to watch over eggs.

It has been seen that at times they do eat a few fish eggs as well.

As can be seen, the diets of catfish are similar yet vary from species to species.

What kind of food they eat depends not only on their habitat but also on water temperatures. It is important to know food preferences in order to find the right bait for your fishing expedition.

Only when you provide the right kind of bait will you be attracting the desired catfish variety.

Sensory Abilities of Catfish

Catfish abound in natural settings. They populate waters around all continents except Antarctica.

In addition to their physical features and characteristic habits, what sets catfish apart are their sensory abilities.

They use their extraordinary senses of hearing, taste, touch, and smell in locating food as well as navigating through waters.

Astoundingly a small catfish of around 6 inches in size packs in about a quarter-million taste buds! That is something unbelievable, but true.

Just imagine the scale of some of the biggest species of catfish! Not only the barbells but the mouth and gill rakers are rich in taste buds.

This means just touching good food will let them perceive it, even before they eat it.

There are sensory organs packing every surface of a catfish body externally as well, from whiskers to tail.

No wonder their sensory abilities are so finely tuned and evolved.

For fish that do not have external visible ears, their sense of hearing is excellent.

As for eyesight, channel catfish have the best eyesight and sense of touch among all other types.

With heightened sensory abilities, catfish are able to sense baits and lures very well.

The best sensory ability of a catfish has to be electroreception.

Even in murky waters, they do not need to necessarily ‘see’ their prey in order to feed.

There are special cells on their heads and along the lateral lines that help them sense any living organism within a certain distance.

This is the most used sensory ability in order for catfish to find their food.

How does the diet of young catfish differ from adult catfish?

One fact about the diet of catfish is that it is gender-neutral.

Extensive studies have shown that male and female catfish eat similarly.

They are big and non-fussy eaters. They eat whatever is available to their habitat.

Depending upon saltwater and freshwater climes, this availability will differ of course.

However, the same study also found that young catfish eat differently from adult catfish.

The stomachs of younger fish contained detritus and phytoplankton, showing that they were eating organisms lower down the food chain.

Water beetles and larvae are also food for younger catfish.

Alternatively, grown-up catfish had remnants of larger fish in their stomachs, meaning they can handle more evolved organisms.

As catfish grow older, their system evolves and they consume more food and comparatively larger invertebrates as compared to younger ones.

Small birds and smaller fish are more to their taste buds and requirements at this stage.

How did catfish get their name?

The most common method of naming any organism has been based on its looks.

Any similarity with a more familiar creature has led to this.

By this logic, it follows that catfish have been named thus because of their similarity to the common household creature, cats.

In fact, catfish are often abbreviated to be called ‘cats’. Let us see in what aspects a catfish’s face resemble a cat’s face.

Let us also take a look at other characteristics of its appearance.

  •   Most catfish have cat whiskers or barbells around their mouth.

This immediately gives them the distinctive ‘whiskered’ appearance that is similar to cats.

  • Catfish do not have scales. In this aspect, they differ from many fishes.
  • They have an adipose fin and spines in the dorsal and pectoral fins.
  • Catfish mostly have olive-green to brown coloration with white or silvery underbelly.
  • There are numerous markings present in younger fish, which is notably less as they grow.
  • Deeply forked, moderately forked, or flat square tails help distinguish catfish species.

Who Eats Catfish?

Generally, the types of catfish that are caught for sport are big fish.

Some can weigh in at a mighty 40 pounds.

This means they are not preyed upon by too many fishes or birds of prey.

Some of the bigger predators like alligators, big birds, fishes (other bigger catfish too,) and humans.

Humans are deeply into catfish fishing because of two reasons – it is an outdoor sport as well as a food source for them.

The commonest and most popular catfish in the human diet are blue catfish.

Other varieties also enjoy a lot of popularity among humans.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do catfish like to eat most?

Most catfish are omnivores but lean towards small fish, live fish, snails, crayfish, and frogs. These constitute a favorite catfish diet.

Do catfish eat poop?

Weird as it might sound, certain catfish have been known to eat poop. This is not to say that it is a regular part of their feeding habits. Two known catfish species that do this are Corydoras and Plecostomus. As a rule, catfish partake in fresh food like small aquatic plants. They also eat vegetation and other small fish.

What do lake catfish eat?

Catfish are nocturnal and omnivorous bottom feeders. Those night crawlers with lake habitats normally eat aquatic plants, mollusks, fish, insects, and soft crab.

Can catfish eat fruits?

Catfish can partake of fruits but this is mainly true for farmed catfish. If you do not have enough algae in your water body, you can supplement the diet with bananas, apples, strawberries, and other fruits.

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