14 Incredible Types of Catfish

Glass catfish (Kryptopterus bicirrhis) - a unique transparent freshwater fish in aquarium. Close-up undewater photo of fish among green seaweed. Visible spine and bones
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Catfish are predominantly nocturnal, bottom-dwelling fish found in freshwater environments around the world. There are over 4,000 known species of catfish, which together account for about 12% of all fish species. Some catfish eat mostly algae while others are entirely carnivorous, even resorting to eating other catfish. Most catfish lack scales. Instead, the catfish skin can have a wide range of sensory abilities to help them in environments with low visibility. Here are 14 of the world's coolest catfish.

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Bristlenose Pleco

A close-up view of a bristlenose catfish's head.
The bristlenose catfish is equipped with cheek spines and snout tentacles.

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The bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus cirrhosus) is one of a number of brisltenose catfishes found in South America. The bristlenose pleco has cheek spikes that are more pronounced in males than females. The spikes are used to cast threats and fight other fish. The male bristlenose catfish is also equipped with snout tentacles, but the purpose of these tentacles is not yet understood.

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Bumblebee Catfish

The bumblebee catfish is found in South America and Asia. There are 50 known species of catfish that make up the South American cohort of bumblebee catfish (Pseudopimelodidae sp.). The Asian cohort (Pseudomystus sp.) is composed of about 20 species. The Asian varieties are sometimes referred to as false bumble-bee catfish or "bumblebee patterned" catfish while South American bumblebee catfish are considered to be "true" bumblebee catfish. South American bumblebee catfish are found in Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Peru.

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Upside-Down Catfish

An upside-down catfish swimming right-side up with fish and underwater vegetation in the background.
The upside-down catfish's name comes from its ability to swim belly up.

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The upside-down catfish's name refers to this fish's ability to swim upside-down. This unusual behavior may help this catfish find food by allowing the fish to graze on the undersides of underwater branches. Alternatively, swimming upside-down may allow the fish to breathe air by peaking its mouth above the surface. A number of species are referred to as upside-down catfish, but the name most often refers to the species Synodontis nigriventris.

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Glass Catfish

A close up view of a couple glass catfish, with their skeletons easily visible.
A group of Indian glass catfish (Kryptopterus bicirrhis).

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The glass catfish, also known as the ghost catfish or phantom catfish, is found in the freshwaters of Thailand. While there are multiple species referred to as glass catfish, the most common of these in the aquarium trade is the species Kryptopterus vitreolus. This catfish's name comes from its transparent body through which the fish's skeleton is easily visible.

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Channel Catfish

A channel catfish on a rocky bottom.
The channel catfish is the most common catfish in North America.

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The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is the most common catfish in North America. It's the official fish of Kansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska. This type of catfish can grow to be over fifty pounds. The channel catfish is now raised in aquaculture facilities to meet rising demands for the fish in the seafood industry. The channel catfish is considered to be an invasive species in places outside of North America.

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Blue Catfish

A large blue catfish just below the water's surface.
The blue catfish is North America's largest catfish species.

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The blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) is the largest species of catfish in North America. It can grow to be over 45 inches long and weigh over 140 pounds. The blue catfish' impressive size makes it one of the only fish capable of eating the Midwest's invasive carp species once these carp reach adulthood.

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Dorado Catfish

The dorado catfish (Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii) is a large species of catfish known for its impressive migrations. To complete their life cycle, the dorado catfish travels over 7,200 miles. The full life cycle takes years to complete. The dorado catfish is native to the Amazon and Orinoco River basin where it is commonly fished.

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Cory Catfish

An orange and black-striped cory catfish on a rocky bottom.
One of the many colorful species of cory catfish.

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The cory catfish are actually an entire genus of catfish, the Corydoras. The cory catfish is native to South America, where it can be found in freshwater habitats from the east of the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean. The over 160 species of cory catfish come in a wide variety of colors. Cory catfish can be quite small, usually between 1 and 5 inches long, and are known to form shoals, or social groups.

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Pictus Catfish

A spotted pictus catfish with whiskers, or barbels, about the same length as its body.
The pictus catfish is equipped with impressively large barbels, or whickers.

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The pictus catfish (Pimelodus pictus) is a small catfish species native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America. This pictus catfish has particularly long barbels, or whiskers, compared to other catfish. The pictus catfish is one of over 1000 species of catfish with a venomous fin spine used to fend off or threaten predators. Catfish venom has been shown to have neurotoxic and blood-damaging effects.

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Flathead Catfish

The flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris), also known as the mudcat or shovelhead cat, is another large catfish found in North America's freshwater. Unlike many other catfish species, the flathead catfish is purely a carnivore feeding almost exclusively on other fish - including other smaller catfish. The flathead catfish is native to the Mississippi River and many of the river's tributaries, but has been introduced to new freshwater areas to the east and west.

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Otocinclus Catfish

An otocinclus catfish eating algae off a leaf.
The otocinclus catfish feeds on algae.

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The otocinclus catfish (Otocinclus sp.), or "otos", are a group of about 19 catfish species that primarily feed on algae. Some otocinclus catfish species appear to be mimics of cory catfish species with venomous spines. By imitating venomous catfish species, the otocinclus catfish may reduce the chance of it being eaten.

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Striped Raphael Catfish

The striped Raphael catfish (Platydoras armatulus), also know as the talking catfish, chocolate catfish, or the thorny catfish, is native to the Amazon, Paraguay-Paraná, and lower Orinoco river basins. The striped Raphael catfish can produce two different sounds, one by rubbing its pectoral spins against its body, and the other by vibrating its swim bladder. These sounds may be used to attract mates, signal distress, or establish territories.

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Wels Catfish

A wels catfish underwater in a dark environment.
The wels catfish is known for its particularly wide head.

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The wels catfish (Silurus glanis), is among the world's largest catfish species. The wels catfish is native to eastern Europe, including the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Caspian Sea. This species of catfish is most recognizable for its particularly broad, flat head and wide mouth. In one study, scientists reported sightings of the wels catfish leaping out of the water to catch pigeons on land. The study found the wels catfish to be successful at catching birds nearly 30% of the time.

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Electric Catfish

The 22 known species of electric catfish (Malapteruridae) are native to tropical Africa. They primarily feed on other fish by first incapacitating their prey with electric discharges. Some electric catfish species can produce shocks of up to 350 volts using a specialized electric organ.

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