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Noturus nocturnus  Jordan & Gilbert, 1886   


he Madtom catfishes of North America are well suited to aquarium life as most are of moderate size. As some of this genera have very limited ranges some are on the protected list and as such the collector would need to have the information at hand as whether collecting of a certain species would be permitted.

Noturus nocturnus


N. nocturnus inhabits sand-gravel riffles and runs near debris and among tree roots along undercut banks in creeks to large rivers. They feed on aquatic insects dominated by mayflies, caddisflies, midges, and blackflies.


The main talking point of madtoms is the venom contained in the dorsal and pectoral spines of this genus which can give a very nasty sting, it is a venomous toxin that forms part of the mucus coating on these spines. In some cases this can last a few hours with swelling of the infected area. This of course is a deterrent to large predators to keep well away and is an excellent defense mechanism. Jason Leaman from Pennsylvania talks about a close species in N. insignis and he states that "if you get stung by the Stonecat, the best relief right away ironically is to rub the wound onto the fish (anywhere you won't get stung again). I have never had the sting last more than about 30 seconds. Its really not too painful, however throbs a bit briefly. I don't know how long it would actually last if I didn't use the Stonecats own medicinal value of its oily flesh"


The freckled madtom looks similar to the Tadpole madtom (Noturus gyrnus) but is more slender, more freckled and is distinguished by the protruding upper jaw. Taylor (1969: 79-81) noted that the species is variable and tends to form distintive localised populations.


This species is moderately robust. The head is depressed, rounded above with the upper jaw overhanging the lower. 4 pairs barbels. Pectoral fin spine with anterior edge smooth, posterior edge roughened or with 3-5 serrations, poison gland at base. As with most of this genera, handle with care. Anal fin is short, 15-20 rays.

Body has a uniform colour of a brown back with the sides lighter with dark freckles. The belly is yellowish. The base of the median fins are dusky and lighter towards the edges, margins are clear.

Aquarium Care

The Madtoms are well suited to aquarium life. Provide river gravel and smooth rounded stones for hiding places during the day. A power filter at one end of the tank will provide the conditions of a flowing stream for these catfish. Can be housed with other North American fishes such as minnows, darters and shiners.


Can be kept with other stream- dwelling species such as shiners, minnows and darters.

Sexual dimorphism
Not recorded but usually the females are more rotund.

As far as I am aware, no madtoms have been bred in the U.K.but some successes have been recorded in the U.S. and Canada. Spawning's can takes place in Spring or Summer with higher temperatures to trigger the spawning. They exhibit parental care, with the male or both sexes guarding the clutch.  The life expectancy is three to four years and they will be sexually mature in two years. Ripe females of N. nocturnus have been collected in late May in Arkansas. Nests have been found in beer cans in shallow riffles with reduced flow at a water temperature of 77°F (25°C) Clutches range from 47-154 eggs. Nests are guarded by a single male and they hatch within 139-161 hours at the temperature mentioned above.

They like most meaty food, such as cut-up earth worms, frozen blood worm and prawns. They will also take tablet and pellet foods. A varied diet will keep them in optimum health.


Noturus: Greek, noton = back + Greek, oura = tail; refering to the position of the tail over the back.

nocturnus: nocturnus meaning nocturnal, referring to the dark colouration.

Glossary of Terms:

Pectoral: The paired fins just behind the head.

Dorsal fin: The primary rayed fin(s) on top of the body.
Anal fin: The median, unpaired, ventrally located fin that lies behind the anus, usually on the posterior half of the fish.


Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2009.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, version (05/2012).
The Audubon Society
Field guide to North American Fishes, Whales & Dolphins. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 848 p.

Schleser David M.; North American Native Fishes for the Home Aquarium. Barron's Educational Series. Inc. 1998. 169 p.

Robinson Henry W.; Buchanan Thomas M.; Fishes of Arkansas. The University of Arkansas Press. 536p.

Smith Philip W.; The fishes of Illinois. University of Illinois Press. Urbana and Chicago. 313p.

Photo Credits

© Larry M. Page
@  Florida Museum of Natural History

Factsheet 222

Common Name:
Freckled Madtom
North America: Mississippi River basin from northern Illinois to Louisiana, and from eastern Kentucky tocentral Kansas and Oklahoma in the USA; Gulf Slope drainages from Mobile Bay in Alabama to Guadalupe River in Texas, USA. Type Locality: Saline River at Benton, Saline County, Arkansas.
12.0cm. (4¾ins)
16 -23°C (59-73°F)
6.5 - 7.2.
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                                                                                                                                  Factsheet 222 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top