The channel catfish is a native catfish species of North America. Native to the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains and naturally occurring in the Gulf states such as Texas, the channel catfish has been introduced to other states as well as other countries around the world.
Known scientifically as Ictalurus punctatus, the channel catfish is at home in rivers, lakes, ponds and other bodies of water that have muddy or sandy bottoms and an average temperature range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Channel catfish possess a long cylindrical body shape and a forked tail. Their skin is scaleless and come in a range of colors from black to grey to a light yellowish beige depending on the murkiness of the water that they inhabit. Juvenile fish will have a scattering of spots over their bodies that will gradually fade as the fish grow and mature. The most distinctive feature are the six barbels that are arranged around the mouth of the fish with the longest two coming down off of the upper jaw like a mustache and four shorter ones on the lower jaw under the mouth. Channel catfish have dorsal and pectoral fins which consists of spines. These spines can inflict injury to fishermen who handle the fish while not paying attention to the spines. All other fins are soft-rayed.
Depending on the temperature of the water and the availability of food, channel catfish may grow to be up to 4 feet in length and can reach weights in excess of 20 pounds, although smaller sizes and weights are more typical. The record weight currently stands at 58 pounds.
Channel catfish have a varied diet that consists of insects, plant material, crustaceans, invertebrates, small fish and whatever else they can fit into their mouths, if given the opportunity. There have been reports of large fish going after and eating birds as well. Young fish typically eat small invertebrates found in the water. Channel catfish use taste sensors to locate their prey. These specialized sensors are most concentrated on the tips of the barbels but are also found all over their bodies.
Spawning occurs when the water temperatures reach 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Channel catfish are known as cavitiy spawners. The male will create a nest for the eggs in a secluded area amongst tree logs, branches, holes or any other suitable site where the eggs can be protected. The female will lay the eggs into the cavity while the male fertilizes them simutaneously. It is then up to the male to defend the nest from predators and keep it clean by fanning off debris that may accumulate on the eggs. The eggs hatch in 5-10 days, depending on the water temperature, and the male will leave the fry on their own soon after they hatch.
Channel catfish are commercially farmed in captivity in large pools and the industry of channel catfish farming has spread from the United States to Russia, China, Brazil and Paraguay. The flesh of channel catfish is delicious and is an excellent source of protein. Captive bred channel catfish grow and become sexually mature at an earlier age than wild populations. The age of maturity for spawning is 2-3 years for captive bred channel catfish while it may be no less than 5 years for wild channel catfish.
In the aquarium trade, channel catfish are kept as pets. An albino form is available and is a popular choice as an ornamental pet fish. Channel catfish kept in aquariums will not reach the sizes that fish living in the wild or even on farms will attain.
Channel catfish are a fished as a source of food as well as for sport. They are a mainstay in the culture of the Southeastern United States and have become a global industry around the world.