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Ictalurus punctatus  (Rafinesque 1818)   

ou will not find this coldwater catfish in your 'coffee table book' on community fish as the "Channel Catfish" is one creature that you can safely say would decimate a tank of guppies and neon tetras in no time at all.

In saying that they do make nice pets when small but beware when they start to put on size even though they are somewhat slow growers to begin with.   

Ictalurus punctatus 

These North American catfishes used to be the mainstay of aquatic coldwater outlets in the U.K.when I first started out in the hobby and along with "Black Bullheads", (Ameirus melas), were bought to put in with the family goldfish as they looked "different"!, but a year on when they  put on size and started to nip the flowing fins of the Goldfish they weren't quite so popular and I suspect a few of them met untimely deaths due to the frustration of the "aquarist". Thankfully they are not imported as much now and it is quite unusual to see them in the U.K. 

Touching on this subject I received a phone call from a friend last month (June 2001) who was setting up a coldwater tank and was on his way to buy a few goldfish and tank from someone else who was giving up the hobby and he had offered him three catfish which were in the same aquarium. Of course he didn't want them and pleaded to my good nature to relieve himself of them or they would meet a sticky end. Of course being a catfish man I couldn't bear to see them suffer and I was of course intrigued to know what they were, thinking they would probably be Bullheads. Imagine my surprise when he brought three 9 inch Channel Cats along which I duly photographed (pic below), one was an albino and the other two were  in what I would call their juvenile colours, (black on top, white underbelly) and to cut a long story short another aquarist had e-mailed me just a few weeks previously wanting to know where he could get some as he has a large pond, and so they went to him on the other side of Scotland with my good wishes. Funny how things turn out!.

How they will fare through a Scottish winter and the sometimes subzero temperatures will be interesting and will they hibernate just as Goldfish do?.

Channel Cats= albino & normal

Well enough of my meanderings and back to the subject of this months factsheet, Ictalurus punctatus, the Channel Catfish. When young they are very "catfish looking" but when they get large, (see pic below) and I have handled a 2ft monster, their heads get very broad and large and they do get heavy, too heavy in fact for an aquarium and as I mentioned above they do better when housed in a pond even though you might not see them too often, unless of course if you have the albino variety which would stand out a little better.

The natural form of this fish is a steely grey with a few spots scattered about. They are in the main a very hardy catfish and water parameters can be wide and varied although regular water changes and water movement will benefit the well-being of the Channel Cat.


Adult albino Channel Catfish

They have been introduced to a few countries throughout Europe but are native to North America and Mexico and are mainy used as a sport fish in the U.S. where it is one of the species used in the  "pay as you fish" ponds. To tell the difference between the "Catfishes" and the "Bullheads" in the family Ictularidae is quite simple, the Catfishes have a forked tail, as in the Channel Catfish, and the Bullhead catfish have a truncate (straightish) caudal fin.

There are now moves afoot by the U.K. Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAAF) to impose restrictions on some coldwater species like the above mentioned Channel Catfish, due to the dangers of introduction to native waters and the threat to its occupants through disease and predation. In other words you could be paying up to 30 for a license to keep them. In the future due to the exporters having to implement new guidelines on matters such as health records for each fish, they could become quite rare in the U.K.

: As of November 1998 in the U.K.you must have a licence to keep the above species. This licence is now issued free, but does take a few months to process. For more information log on to the
DEFRA site.

Dorsal 1/6; Anal 1/25-30; Pectorals; 1/9; Ventrals 8. Caudal fin forked, jaws equal.

Colouration variable; pale brown to grey-green, back darker, underside yellowish to clear white with a silver gleam. Sparsely sprinkled dark spots on the flanks. Fins colourless, occasionally with dark edges. Also albino version.

Best to be kept on its own, or in a very large tank with other large catfish that can take care of themselves. Housing with large Cichlids is another possibility.

Spawning takes place in early spring and the nests are constructed under rocks or caves with the parents guarding the young.

Inhabits rivers and streams and prefers clean, well oxygenated water. Feeds primarily on small fish, crustaceans, clams and snails. In the aquarium/pond they will eat most food with a preference for live/frozen food and also worms such as earth worms and white worm. Will also take catfish tablets and trout pellets.

Ictalurus: Ichthys = fish; ailouros = cat.
punctatus: From the Latin punctatus = 'spotted'.

Burgess Warren E., Freshwater and Marine Catfishes
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2002. FishBase.World Wide Web electronic publication.
www.fishbase.org, 18 August 2002
Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr, 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p.
Sterba, Günther; Sterba's Freshwater Fishes of the World 1.

Photo Credits
Top picture:      Reinhold Wawrzynski @ Catfish and more
Middle Picture: Allan James @  ScotCat

Bottom Picture: Andy Smith
Factsheet 062

Silurus punctatus   
Common Name:
Channel Catfish
North America: Central drainages of the United States to southern Canada and northern Mexico
70cm. (27ins)
10-32°C (47-91°F)    
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                                                                                                        Factsheet 62 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top