Different Types of Catfish: Explore the Wide World of Catfish Varieties

Catfish is a popular fish among anglers, and there are many different types of catfish that can be caught in freshwater and saltwater.

While all catfish have a similar appearance, there are quite a few varieties of them to be found in different aquatic habitats around the world.

In this article, we will explore some of the most common types of catfish and their characteristics. We will discuss their physical features, habitat preferences, and other interesting facts about each species.

Different types of catfish
Image: Catfish

Different Types of Catfish

Here is a list of different types of catfish:

  1. Channel Catfish
  2. Blue Catfish
  3. Flathead Catfish
  4. Bullhead Catfish
  5. Black Bullhead
  6. Yellow Bullhead
  7. Brown Bullhead
  8. Stonecat
  9. Madtom
  10. White Catfish
  11. Walking Catfish
  12. Glass Catfish
  13. Bluespotted Sunfish
  14. Spotted Bullhead

Channel Catfish

Typically found in streams, rivers, and lakes throughout North America. They have a distinctive appearance with a streamlined body, forked tail, and a slightly flattened head.

They feed on a variety of foods including insects, crustaceans, and small fish. Channel catfish are prolific breeders and can lay thousands of eggs at a time. They are a popular sport fish and are considered to have a mild, sweet flavor.

This species is found east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Mexico. It holds the distinction of being the most fished catfish species in the world. If you’ve ever eaten catfish, you’ve probably eaten this sort of fish.

Because of its popularity has spread throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, where it is often considered an invasive species.

Ictalurus punctatus is the scientific name for the Channel Catfish, which refers to its speckled appearance.

These species, like the blue catfish, have highly forked tails; the main difference is that the latter’s tail has a different color.

Channel catfish are often olive-brown or slate in color, with blue or grey tones on the sides. Also, their bellies and undersides are white to silvery white.

As their scientific name suggests, one of the most noticeable characteristics of channel catfish is the presence of many little black dots down the length of their bodies.

Intriguingly, these patches may not always be present in more critical fish species. For example, compared to the blue catfish, the anal fin of this species has 24-29 rays.

Channel Catfish are abundant in lakes, rivers, major streams, and reservoirs with a low range of current velocity.

The popularity of these species in the United States is primarily due to two factors.

First, they are abundant and easily accessible in most rivers and lakes in the United States.

Second, they are an excellent food source. This is also how they are often captured. Nonetheless, constructing baits with grains like wheat or range cubes is a common approach or strategy for capturing them.

Blue Catfish

Large, predatory fish that are native to the Mississippi and Missouri River systems in North America. They have a streamlined body, large head, and a forked tail.

They feed on a variety of foods including other fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. Blue catfish are opportunistic feeders and will consume almost anything they can find.

They have a strong, firm flesh that is often described as having a mild, sweet flavor.

This is the biggest species of catfish in North America, native to Mexico and the southeastern United States. Because of its blue-grey coloring, this fish is very tolerant to brackish water, allowing it to flourish in various rivers and lakes.

This species of catfish is also known as Mississippi White Catfish, high fin blue, and humpback blue, among others. Ictalurus furcatus is the scientific name for the Blue Catfish, where ‘Ictalurus’ is Greek for “fish cat” and ‘fucatus’ is Latin for “forked.”

Together, the scientific name references the blue catfish’s forked tail fin. Most of these species inhabit vast river systems’ tributaries and main waterways.

In the winter, all blue catfish species migrate downstream in quest of warmer waters. In contrast, in the summer, they migrate upstream in search of cooler temperatures.

Blue catfish are endemic to the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri river basins, Mexico, Texas, and northern Guatemala.

They are simple to detect because, unlike Channel Catfish, they lack spots and often have a slate grey back and upper sides with a conspicuous white belly.

Blue catfish often have 30-35 rays on their anal fin and an estimated 20-30 year lifetime.

Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish, also known as “mud cats” or “yellow cats,” are fascinating creatures that can be found in a variety of habitats throughout the central and southeastern United States. They are particularly common in large rivers and impoundments, where their impressive size and predatory nature make them a popular target for anglers.

Flathead catfish are easily recognizable by their wide, flattened head and blunt snout. They typically have a brown or yellowish body, with darker markings on their sides. They are known for their aggressive feeding habits, which can make them a formidable opponent for other fish and crustaceans in their environment.

Despite their ferocious reputation, flathead catfish are actually solitary creatures that do not form schools like some other species of fish. They prefer to lurk in deep pools and other areas with plenty of cover, where they can ambush prey and avoid detection by predators.

One thing that sets flathead catfish apart from other types of fish is their distinctive flavor. While some people find their flesh to be delicious, others find it to be too strong or “fishy” for their liking. Nevertheless, these fish remain a popular target for fishermen and an interesting species for researchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Bullhead Catfish

Bullhead catfish species are fascinating both in their appearance and their habits. In comparison to other catfish species that grow to massive sizes, bullhead catfish are smaller and usually reach a maximum length of 12 to 15 inches.

Their round-shaped stocky body gives them a unique look, further complemented by their flattened head that provides a powerful suction force required to feed.

Bullhead catfish are bottom-dwellers and can be found in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers, where they spend most of their time hiding under rocks and logs.

They emerge from their hiding spots at night to feed on insects, crustaceans, and small fish. Some anglers may prefer to fish for bullhead catfish at night since they can be more active and easier to catch.

Although not highly prized for their flavor, many still consider bullhead catfish edible. They are often found in various cuisines, where they are typically fried or served as a fish cake. Some people enjoy their firm-textured white flesh and suggest soaking them in saltwater to remove any muddy taste.

Whether it’s for sport or food, bullhead catfish offer an exciting and unique experience for those who seek to catch or consume them.

Black Bullhead

One of the most common and widely distributed catfish species in North America are the black bullhead. These small, dark-colored fish can usually be found in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers, where they can thrive in environments where other fish may not.

When fully grown, they typically measure 8 to 15 inches in length and are easily distinguishable by their rounded body, short and blunt snout, and wide, flattened head.

Black bullheads are opportunistic feeders and will eat various foods, including insects, crustaceans, and small fish. However, they will also scavenge for food at the bottom of a pond or river, which makes them less desirable for a meal.

In fact, black bullheads are not highly prized for their flavor as they are often thought of as being too bony and muddy tasting.

Despite their less-than-desirable taste, anglers often catch black bullheads and use them for consumption. They can be seen using a variety of baits, but anglers tend to prefer using live bait such as worms or small minnows.

Some anglers also enjoy the thrill of catching these small fighters, as black bullheads have a reputation for being tough and pulling hard when hooked.

Overall, while black bullheads may not be the most glamorous fish in a pond or lake, they are a hardy and durable species that anglers can enjoy even if they are not highly prized for their flavor.

Yellow Bullhead

A yellowish-brown catfish species that are found in slow-moving rivers and ponds.

They have a stocky, round body, a flattened head, and a short, forked tail. They feed on a variety of foods including insects, crustaceans, and small fish.

Yellow bullhead are not highly prized for their flavor, but anglers often catch and consume them.

Brown Bullhead

The brown bullhead is a catfish species commonly found in slow-moving rivers and ponds across North America. With a distinct brown or dark coloration, these fish have a stocky, round body that tapers at the tail, giving them a unique appearance. Additionally, brown bullheads’ flattened head and short, forked tails make them an easily recognizable species.

Feeding primarily on insects, crustaceans, and small fish, the brown bullhead is an opportunistic feeder that scours the bottom of a pond or river in search of food. While their feeding habits may not make them the most desirable for consumption, anglers still frequently catch and consume these fish.

Despite their lack of popularity for their flavor, anglers often turn to the brown bullhead for a thrilling and challenging fishing experience. These small fish can be tricky to catch, often putting up a strong fight when hooked. Using live bait, such as worms or small minnows, is a preferred method for catching these fighters.


Found in clear streams and rivers throughout North America, the madtom catfish is a small, dark-colored species that is well adapted to life in fast-moving aquatic environments.

With a slender body and a pointed snout, the madtom catfish is built for speed and manoeuvrability in the water, able to dart and weave with remarkable agility. Their short, rounded tail also gives them the balance and stability necessary to navigate rocky streambeds and rapids.

Primarily feeding on a diet of insects and crustaceans, the madtom catfish is a skilled hunter, using its keen senses to track down prey in the fast-moving currents of their natural habitat.

While not renowned for their taste, madtom catfish are occasionally caught and consumed by anglers, who regard them as challenging.

Overall, the madtom catfish is a small, but mighty species that is well adapted to life in the fast-moving waters of North American streams and rivers.

With their slender bodies, pointed snouts, and impressive maneuverability, these fish are a striking sight as they dart and weave through the waterways they call home.


The small, dark-colored catfish species referred to here is known as the Stonecat (Noturus flavus). These intriguing catfish are native to a number of regions in North America, including the Mississippi and St. Lawrence River basins. They typically measure around 4-6 inches in length, with a slender, scaleless body that is marked with dark blotches along its sides.

Stonecats can be found lurking in cool, clear streams and rivers, where they prefer to hide amongst rocks and crevices. They are known for being nocturnal creatures, and are therefore most active during the night. Their diet primarily consists of aquatic insects and crustaceans, which they seize with their sharp spines before devouring.

Despite their striking appearance and predatory nature, Stonecats are not typically a highly prized species for their flavor. In fact, due to their relatively small size and bony anatomy, recreational anglers do not commonly seek them. However, for those with an interest in the natural world, these elusive catfish are well worth observing in their native habitats.

White Catfish

White Catfish, formally known as Ameiurus catus, is one of over 40 known species of catfish in North America. These fish are known for their ability to adapt to a wide range of environments, including freshwater rivers, lakes, and ponds. Their large head houses piercing eyes and a broad mouth filled with multiple rows of fine, needlelike teeth.

They are primarily active during the night and are known to feed in low-light environments. Their diet consists of a wide variety of foods, including smaller fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic vegetation.

These catfish are also known to be opportunistic feeders, meaning they will consume almost anything they can find, including carrion and garbage.

White catfish is a popular sport fish often sought by anglers. Their meat has a mild, sweet flavor and a firm, white texture that works well for baking, grilling, or frying. It is also rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamin D.

Due to its popularity, white catfish are now being widely farmed in aquaculture ponds, providing a sustainable source of seafood for consumers and restaurants.

Walking Catfish

A species of catfish that is native to Southeast Asia but has been introduced in several other parts of the world, including the United States.

They are known for their ability to “walk” on land, using their fins to move short distances. They have a gray or brown body and a wide, flattened head.

They feed primarily on insects, crustaceans, and small fish.

Walking catfish are not highly prized for their flavor but are sometimes consumed in Southeast Asia.

Glass Catfish

A small, transparent species of catfish that is native to Southeast Asia. They have a slender, cylindrical body and a small, rounded head.

They feed on a variety of foods including insects, crustaceans, and small fish.

Glass catfish are not commonly consumed but are sometimes kept as ornamental fish in aquariums.

This must be one of the most intriguing and unique species of catfish. Glass Catfish are so called because their bodies are entirely translucent. This is also why they are popularly known as “ghost catfish” or “phantom catfish.”

Their bodies are translucent, allowing one can view their innards and bones, and their ‘hidden’ tail fin is barely visible to the human eye.

The glass catfish’s ability to hide in the face of fish predators is an extra benefit of their transparency.

The species of glass catfish have large barbels on their heads and a prominent dorsal fin on their backs.

Their whisker-like barbels extend beyond their face and emerge from their nostrils, making them very sensitive to environmental changes.

Intriguingly, most glass catfish are believed to be able to detect electromagnetic waves in their environment, which has attracted a large number of scientists who are currently researching how this exceptional ability of this catfish can be used to aid patients with Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Glass catfish inhabit slow-moving rivers and streams and originated in Thailand. Although their transparent bodies are often favorable, they represent a significant hazard to their survival when the water quality is low, and they are mistaken for garbage.

Bluespotted Sunfish

A small, brightly colored species of fish that is found in freshwater streams and rivers in the central United States. They are not related to catfish and do not belong to the catfish family.

They feed primarily on insects and other small invertebrates. They are not commonly consumed but sometimes caught and kept as ornamental fish in aquariums.

Spotted Bullhead – A small, dark-colored catfish species that is found in slow-moving rivers and ponds. They have a stocky, round body, a flattened head, and a short, forked tail.

They feed on various foods, including insects, crustaceans, and small fish. Spotted bullhead are not highly prized for their flavor, but anglers often catch and consume them.

Cory Catfish

Cory catfish are widely used in aquariums. The species burrows its nose into river bottoms and vacuums food in the wild.

When raised in captivity, cory catfish consume an omnivorous diet of fish pellets and other things such as worms.

This species of little aquarium catfish reaches a maximum size of 3 inches. Their size makes them a good option for folks with tiny aquariums who like keeping a limited number of fish as pets.

Cory catfish are also often referred to as Corydoras catfish and Cory cats. In addition, widespread freshwater fish species are frequently referred to as “armoured catfish” because their bodies seem to be covered with bone-like substances.

They also have whisker-like barbels on either side of their lips and, if properly cared for and maintained, may live up to 20 years on average.

Cory catfish are famous in most fish retailers and aquarium owners due to their ease of maintenance.

They have a calm, non-aggressive disposition and seem quite meek and timid compared to other catfish species.

They are known to be bottom-dwellers that search for food near the tank’s bottom. These species are also omnivores.

Therefore they strongly choose a combination of plant-based and animal-based.


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  2. The Catfish Book Paperback by Linda Crawford Culberson (Author), Craig Claiborne (Foreword)
  3. Tucker, Craig C., and Edwin H. Robinson. Channel catfish farming handbook. Springer Science & Business Media, 1990.