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13 Different Types of Catfish

Catfish on a water

Do you fancy having a variety of fish for pets and perhaps dream of having a large, beautiful aquarium in your house with different colorful and stunning fish just swimming around all day long?

If you do, you would be interested to know that catfish have some of the most fascinating personalities and highly distinctive looks and appearances. These features and qualities also make them one of the most popular picks among most beginners and aquarium owners.

However, you must know picking the right kind catfish for a pet is extremely important!

Catfish – Life History and Evolution

Catfish with barbels

The catfish population is very diverse with almost 3000 species known to date. They rank second or third among all the vertebrates in terms of their diversity and interestingly, one in every twenty vertebrates and also one in every ten species of fish is a catfish.

You will find different catfish species on every continent except Antarctica. Catfish are most commonly and popularly found in all kinds of freshwater environment, however, some particular species are also found in marine environments.

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Catfish are known to be bottom dwellers that are most active during the night instead of the day. Freshwater catfish are found in a variety of habitats ranging from gushing mountain streams to slow and torpid waters and marine catfish are mostly found near the shore.

Physical Characteristics

Redtail catfish

Catfish stand out among all the other kinds of fish because they don’t have scales, which are often considered to be the most defining feature of the fish species. Instead of scales, catfish have spines in the front of their fins and also fleshy and ray-less posterior fin which is called an adipose fin.

One of their most notable physical features is, of course, their slender and prominent whisker-like barbels that gave them this unique name in the first place. Most of the catfish species contain four pairs of barbels on the head and two on the chin with one maxillary and one nasal.

Majority of catfish are dull-colored, however, some species belonging to the North American streams are believed to sport brightly colored patterns and designs.


Catfish normally vary in size with smallest species ranging from 4-5 centimeters in length while the largest and the heaviest of catfish species extending to 4.5 meters or 15 feet in length and weighing about 300 kilograms.

There are numerous records of the largest and the heaviest catfish being caught in various parts of the worlds however, all those pale in comparison to the one caught in northern Thailand on May 1, 2005. This was the heaviest Mekong giant catfish to have been caught to date that weighed almost 293 kg (646 lb).

However, it is still believed that the Mekong giant catfish has the ability to grow even longer and heavier.

Types of Catfish

Due to their incredible diversity, you will find a huge variety of thousands of different catfish species, especially if you are to pick one for your freshwater tank.

Below is a list of popular and common types of catfish, including different aquarium catfish for fish-keepers as well as some species of giant catfish.

Blue Catfish

A blue catfish in an aquarium

This type of catfish also has other common names including Mississippi White Catfish, high fin blue and humpback blue, to name a few. The scientific name for Blue Catfish is Ictalurus Furcatus where ‘Ictalurus’ is Greek for “fish cat” and ‘fucatus’ is Latin for “forked”. Together the scientific name is a reference to the forked tail fin of the blue catfish.

These are primarily large-river fish that are typically found in the tributaries and main channels of major river systems. During the winter season, all the blue catfish species move downstream in search of warm waters and in the summer season, they go upstream towards cooler temperatures.

Blue catfish are native to Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri river basins and further extend to Mexico, Texas and northern Guatemala. They are easy to spot because they are unspotted unlike the Channel Catfish and typically sport a slate gray color on the back and upper sides with a prominent white belly.

Blue catfish normally have 30-35 rays on the anal fin and have an estimated lifespan of 20-30 years.

Blue catfish species are often referred to as “opportunistic feeders” because they are usually found feeding different kinds of bait fish that they have injured. They also have a preference for bait with strong and distinct scents.

The current world record for blue catfish is 143 pounds although there are a few rumors circulating around that the largest blue catfish to have been caught to date weighs between 300-350 pounds.

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

The scientific name of the Channel Catfish is Ictalurus Punctatus where ‘punctatus’ is Latin for “spotted”, referring to its spotted design. Like the blue catfish, these species also have deeply forked tails quite to similar to the former; with the only exception that the latter’s tail is of a different color.

Channel catfish typically sports an olive brown or slate color, often with hues of blue or grey on the sides. They also have white to silver white bellies and undersides. One of the most distinguishing features of the channel catfish, as their scientific name also suggests, is the presence of numerous small black spots on the length of their bodies.

However, interestingly, these spots may not necessarily be present in the larger fish species. Compared to the blue catfish, these species have 24-29 rays on the anal fin.

Channel Catfish are found in great abundance in lakes, rivers, large streams and reservoirs that have a low current range.

These species are quite popular in the United States mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, they are readily and easily available in most rivers and lakes of the US and secondly, they make an excellent table fare.

Channel catfish have a huge preference for crawfish, worms and bait fish which is also how they are usually caught. A popular method or technique for catching them, though, is preparing the baits with grains like wheat or range cubes.

Flathead Catfish

A multicolored flathead catfish

This species has a few other common names like Shovelhead Cat, Yellow Cat, Mud Cat, and Pied Cat. Their scientific name is Pylodictis Olivaris where ‘pylodictis’ is Greek for “mudfish” and ‘olivaris” is a Latin word that translates to “olive-colored” in English.

Flathead is commonly found to be yellow in color which is why one of their common names is “yellow cat”. However, their skin is often a mixture of yellow and olive brown with pale yellow or cream-colored undersides and light brown to pale yellow backsides.

They have a fairly smooth skin without any scales, long and sharp spines on the back, and also cat-like whiskers around the mouth region.

The flathead catfish, as the name obviously suggests, have very flattened and broadheads that often resemble a shovel. This is the primary reason why they are also called “shovelhead cat”. Their tail fins are not as deeply forked as those of the blue and channel catfish, but instead, have a slight notch in them.

The entire species of flathead catfish seem to follow a general rule according to which they only prey on live fish, which doesn’t make them opportunistic feeders or predators like the blue

catfish. They love to feed on invertebrates, worms, and crayfish, as they grow larger; their diet usually includes other fish species including other types of catfish.

Flathead catfish is typically found in deep creeks where the currents are slow and moderate and the waters are cloudy.

Cory Catfish

Cory Catfish

This is a type of small species of aquarium catfish that grow to a maximum length of 3 inches. Their size makes them an excellent choice for people with small tanks who prefer having a few fishes as pets.

Cory catfish are also commonly called Corydoras Catfish and Cory Cats. They are a popular species of freshwater fish and are often described as “armored catfish” because they seem to have some bone-like material covering their bodies.

They also have whiskers-like barbels on each side of their mouth and if they are cared for, and looked after properly, they live up to an average of 20 years.

Cory catfish are super popular in most fish stores and among aquarium owners mainly because it is very easy to care for them. They have a non-aggressive and cool temperament and appear to be really shy and timid compared to many other catfish species.

They are known to be bottom dwellers that curiously look for food at the bottom of the tank. These species are also omnivores so they highly prefer a mixture of both and plant-based and meat-based food.

Glass Catfish

Glass Catfish

This has to be one of the most fascinating and distinctive catfish species. Glass Catfish are so named because of their completely transparent bodies. This is also why they are commonly referred to as “ghost Catfish” or “phantom catfish”.

Their transparent bodies allow one to see their organs and bones and apparently, they have a ‘hidden’ tail fin that is hardly visible to the naked eye. The transparency is an added advantage for glass catfish because it allows them to camouflage their bodies in the presence of fish predators.

The glass catfish species have big barbels on their heads and a raised portion on their back which is their dorsal fin. The whisker-like barbels extend past their face and come out from their nose which makes them extremely sensitive to environmental changes around them.

Fascinatingly, most of the glass catfish are believed to be able to detect electromagnetic waves in their surroundings which has attracted a lot of scientists who are now researching on how this exceptional ability of this catfish can be used to help those with Parkinson’s and epilepsy.

Glass catfish are typically found in slow-moving rivers and streams and have initially originated from Thailand. Although their clear bodies are mainly advantageous, they pose a great threat to their survival when the water conditions are poor and they end up being mistaken for debris.

Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish

These species are native to the Orinoco and Amazon River basins and are known for their exceptionally long barbels. Pictus catfish are commonly kept in freshwater tanks as pets and are nocturnal bottom feeders with an active aptitude for swimming.

The pictus catfish have a forked tail, a downturned mouth, and sharp spines on their dorsal and they sport a beautiful silver color with black spots and stripes. They have really delightful and fun personalities that make them quite a popular choice among fish-keepers.

The body of the pictus catfish is slender and long and overall they grow to an average length of 5 inches. Since they are omnivorous, they prefer eating insects, vegetables, bloodworms, and prepared fish foods.

Upside Down Catfish

Upside Down Catfish

While the “glass catfish” usually generate a lot of buzz and fascination, the ‘upside down catfish’ is quite a whole new phenomenon altogether. As obviously as their name suggests, these species are complete upside down and are likely to turn some heads their way if you have them in your aquarium.

Their upside down swimming posture greatly allows them to feed easily and effortlessly on the water’s surface. One of their common names also includes “blotched upside down catfish” because they have dark brown blotches of various sizes on their bodies. They typically sport a light-brown colored body with this spotted appearance.

The upside down catfish can reach an average size of three to four inches which is why they are often considered a dwarf catfish. They have three pairs of barbels, large eyes, the characteristic forked tail and also a large adipose fin.

Otocinclus Catfish

Otocinclus Catfish

These catfish are also sold by several other names like Oto catfish, Dwarf sucker-mouths, Dwarf ottos, Otto cats, Algae scrapers, and many others. These species are excellent for freshwater aquariums and are popularly known as ‘amazing little scavengers’.

Since they are a highly delicate fish species, looking after them and caring for them can be tricky business.

The Otocinclus Catfish is an extremely small fish that grows to an average of only one and a half to two inches when fully mature. They are native to South America and are further widely distributed throughout the lowlands that extend from northern Venezuela to northern Argentina.

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Catfish

These catfish species are known to be one of the best aquarium choices because they are super peaceful, are easy to keep and they are excellent algae eaters. Compared to the other Plecos, the Bristlenose Pleco are relatively small species that grow to an average of only 4-5 inches.

They have originated from South America particularly from the swift waters of the Amazon River Basin but can also be found in certain parts of Central America. They are typically found in gray, brown and green colors, often with yellow or white spots on various parts of their body.

These species stand out from other types of catfish due to their distinct and unusual appearance that consists of a wide head, a flat and fat body, and bony plates. However, they are extremely sociable and peaceful, two qualities that make them excellent tank mates.

Striped Raphael Catfish

Striped Raphael Catfish

This is a popular tank catfish that attracts a lot of aquarists due to some distinguishing features. These include the ability to produce various sounds, high endurance levels, and the armor that they have.

Their natural habitats include Brazil, part of the Amazon River in Peru, the Orinoco river basin in Columbia and the Parnaíba River basins. They grow to an average length of 20 centimeters and live up to 15-20 years.

In terms of physical appearance, the Striped Raphael Catfish has a cylindrical arrow-shaped body, a large head, and a flat abdomen. It also has laterally-spaced, large eyes and curved spines along its lateral line. They are known to be bottom feeders which means that they will eat anything they find on a river on a tank bottom.

Bumblebee Catfish

Bumblebee Catfish

This is quite a vibrant and bright colored species of catfish that is known to come out of its hiding spot in order to hunt for food.

The bumble catfish species are also known as “the South American bumblebee catfish” and are small, tropical fish that are native to Venezuela. They are found in rapid flowing rivers and are typically seen in the flowing waters of the Amazon basin, Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru.

They are quite popular among aquarium owners for their wide, smiling faces and the pretty yellowish stripes on their bodies. They have an overall light brown body with a large triangular, pale patch located on the bottom of its fin-rays.

Bumblebee catfish grow to an average length of 8cm and can manage to live for a period of 3-5 years given that they are kept in ideal growing conditions. They prefer to feed on sinking tablets, sinking granules, dried and frozen foods.

Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eater Catfish

The Chinese algae eater species of catfish is also known by a variety of other names including Sucker Fish, Lemon algae eater, Honey Sucker, and Siamese algae eater, to name a few. They thrive in medium to large sized water bodies like lakes, rivers, inflowing streams, and tributaries.

They are popularly known as the best aquarium fish and are originally native to southern parts of China and a few large areas of Southeast Asia.

These species have slender bodies with a sucker type mouth, hence the name “suckerfish”. Their average lifespan ranges from 5-10 years and they normally grow to a length of 2 cm. the body of the Chinese algae eater sports a beautiful golden color with a series of dark spots and a darker colored band that goes over the length of its body.

Wels Catfish

Wels Catfish

This is known as the second largest catfish species that is native to a number of regions of the Eastern Europe, and basins of the Caspian and Black seas. The Wels catfish is hailed as a prized sport fish in Western Europe and is easily identifiable due to its scale-less body, wide mouth, and a broad flat head.

These catfish species grow up to a total length of 5 meter which is 16 feet and contains a maximum weight of more than 300 kg which is approximately 660 lb. The mouth of these fish contains a series of numerous small teeth and their upper jaw has two long barbels while the lower jaw contains four shorter barbels.

They have the advantage of a clear, night vision because their eyes have a tapetum lucidum, a layer of tissue in the eyes of many vertebrates that allows an increased amount of light on the photoreceptors of the eyes.

Wels catfish are also known to depend on their sense of smell and hear in order to hunt or catch their prey. The skin of these fish appears to be very slimy with white or pale yellow undersides.

An interesting feature of this species is that their skin color changes with the environment so clear water give them a black appearance while muddy water turns them into a greenish-brown color.

Have you picked your favorite yet? Whichever catfish you decide to pet, make sure you provide them with their ideal growing conditions and appropriately-sized fish tanks or aquariums because their space matters a lot to them!