Ictalurus punctatus (Channel Catfish)

ictalurus punctatus

Last updated on June 22nd, 2022 at 04:47 am

The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) are a common freshwater fish found throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico in warm, slow-moving streams, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. Commonly reaching weights of up to 10 pounds in their natural habitat (though they’re usually smaller in aquaculture operations), channel catfish are omnivorous scavengers whose diet consists primarily of insects and zooplankton during the early stages of life, but whose diet shifts to more mollusks and aquatic vegetation as they mature.

Ictalurus punctatus are one of the most popular species of catfish in the United States today, and they’re one of the most popular fish species around the world as well. In fact, they are among the top-selling freshwater fish in North America, and they can even be found in nearly every pet store and aquarium shop across the country.

The popularity of channel catfish has inspired many people to start catfish farms or even home aquariums, but this popularity also means that there are more individuals than ever interested in learning about these aquatic creatures and how to take care of them properly.

Origin and descriptions

ictalurus punctatus

Ictalurus punctatus, commonly known as channel catfish is a species of North American freshwater fish in the Ictaluridae family. Native to North America, it has been introduced to and is widely distributed in Eurasia. Common names include channel cat, mudcat, kitty cat, mississippi river catfish, hardhead, and whiskerfish.

Named for their elongated and flattened pectoral fins that resemble a cat’s whiskers, Ictalurus punctatus are not related to cats; instead, they have more genetic similarities with salmon. It was originally given its scientific name by Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 based on specimens from Pennsylvania.

It is one of two species assigned to the genus Ictalurus, along with Ictalurus melas (the black bullhead). It inhabits large rivers, reservoirs, and impoundments. During seasonal movements away from dense concentrations of food sources such as plankton blooms, adults may move into smaller streams or creeks within a watershed.

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Species profile

ictalurus punctatus

The Ictalurus punctatus is a member of Order Siluriformes and Family Ictaluridae. Ictaluridae are often referred to as catfishes because their spiny-rayed dorsal fin supports an adipose fin that resembles a cat’s. Their common name comes from their tendency to spend most of their time near or in flowing waters. Channel catfish have also been widely farmed for food production for over 100 years.

Channel catfish scientific name

The scientific name for the channel catfish is Ictalurus punctatus

Channel catfish habitat

Ictalurus punctatus live in freshwater, which makes them freshwater fish. They can be found in rivers, ponds, and other bodies of water. Due to their schooling nature, Channel catfish are usually kept in groups of at least five fish. They prefer warm waters and can survive at temperatures between 60 degrees F-72 degrees F (16 degrees C – 22 degrees C).

Channel catfish size and weight

The average size for this species is 22 inches (57 cm) in length and weighs around 2 to 3 pounds. The maximum recorded length for this fish is 52 inches (132 cm)

Channel catfish tank size

With an average length of 22 inches, the minimum recommended tank size is 1000 gallons

Ictalurus punctatus tank set up

Ictalurus punctatus need plenty of space. A general rule of thumb is to have at least 1,000 gallons per fish in your tank. If you’re keeping multiple cats, plan on at least 50 gallons for each additional catfish. This is because channel catfish are social fish that often live and school together, so it’s important to give them room to swim and play! You should also use a substrate like a river sand, since they love digging and burrowing.

For optimal water quality, provide good filtration equipment like an under-gravel filter or canister filter along with a pH balance of 6.5–7.5 and a temperature range of 65–75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day with an increase to about 80 degrees during feeding time at night. Also remember to add some plants—the more, the better!—to keep oxygen levels high in your tank.

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Adding places for him to rest will help cut down on fin nipping; if he doesn’t have somewhere stable to hide, he may resort to biting fins as a way of defending himself when other fish get too close.

Channel catfish tank mates

Ictalurus punctatus aren’t generally aggressive, so they can be kept with other species of fish. Good tank mates include bluegill and redear sunfish. Channel catfish may eat small fish like neon tetras, guppies, or mollies, but can also be kept in a community tank with these species as long as you keep their numbers lower than those of your catfish. In addition to eating smaller fish, channel catfish may also prey on shrimp, snails, and aquatic plants.

Ictalurus punctatus breeding

ictalurus punctatus

Ictalurus punctatus are an egg-scatterer, where eggs are deposited and left abandoned. The female will produce between 200 and 1000 ova, but she may not necessarily use all of them at once. When ready to spawn, she will select a partner from a school of males and release her eggs in his vicinity while he fertilizes them.

There is very little parental care after spawning: young fry relies on resources in their environment to survive until they reach maturity, which is typically achieved around age 3.

Given ample food sources and few predators, channel catfish can live to ages exceeding 20 years. Ictalurus punctatus are also known for being aggressive feeders; as omnivores, they have voracious appetites that drive them to actively hunt down a prey rather than wait for it to come to them like some more passive species do.

Are Channel catfish aggressive or peaceful?

Ictalurus punctatus are generally regarded as peaceful fish that are best kept in groups of five or more. As long as each catfish is given its own space and a suitable hideout, there’s little chance for conflict. However, it’s important to remember that even if your fish don’t fight with one another, they may eat smaller tankmates!

Channel catfish care

ictalurus punctatus

Ictalurus punctatus require a habitat that is deep, as well as wide and long. A full-grown channel catfish can grow to up to three feet in length, so be sure you have plenty of space for your fish to live comfortably. The water level should reach at least halfway up their body when they are in a normal standing position.

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They love to roam around on land or swim about in shallow water, so make sure there’s room for them! When choosing a tank size, keep these habits in mind. Also, be aware that many other species will live harmoniously with an ictalurus punctatus if they all share similar needs.

Channel catfish diet

Ictalurus punctatus has a varied diet. They eat insects, shrimp, snails, and small fish. Feeder fish are used in some areas to keep large groups of channel catfish well fed. A number of commercial foods made specifically for fish are also available. Fish food is an important part of a healthy diet for your pet; look for ones high in protein and low in fat.

Be careful not to overfeed your pet; it is better for them to go hungry than it is for them to eat too much. There are more expensive brands available that contain all necessary vitamins and minerals needed by your pet as opposed to basic feedings which only provide proteins and fats.

Water parameters

ictalurus punctatus

The ideal water condition for Ictalurus punctatus should have a pH 7.0–8.5, specific gravity 1.021–1.025 at 25°C (77°F), and temperature 22–26°C (72–79°F). The pH should be kept in a fairly narrow range because Channel catfish have very few acids in their body fluid, to begin with, and their blood becomes more acidic as pH goes lower or higher, eventually poisoning them. If it is too low, normal metabolic processes are affected; if it is too high, acidosis can occur.

It can tolerate slightly brackish water but is not recommended for use in conditions of low salinity. No need for complex filtration using mechanical and biological methods like those used for some cichlids; rather than creating stable environments they cause many diseases including fish tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium marinum.

Channel catfish lifespan

The average lifespan in captivity is 15-25 years. These are relatively old ages for catfish, especially when compared to other fish of comparable size and temperaments. The maximum age ever recorded for this catfish is 40 years.

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Parasites and diseases

Ictalurus punctatus are hosts to several species of digenean trematodes including Diphyllobothrium spp. and Piscicotyle necatrix. Both of these parasites are transmitted via infected food fish or live food fish. The life cycle of these species begins when a cyprinid fish ingests cercariae from contaminated water or infected intermediate hosts, such as crustaceans and snails.

After ingestion, a cercarial hatches and encysts in various tissues of its new host. If an appropriate predator ingests one of these infected individuals, then an adult form will be released and can reproduce within their new host’s intestines.


Ictalurus punctatus have a wide range of predators, including largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, and ciscoes. Their main defense against predators is their acute sense of smell; they are able to detect fish that are following them through changes in water pressure or sometimes even sound. They will then dart away from the predator with sudden bursts of speed.

Do Ictalurus punctatus make good pets?

Well-kept Ictalurus punctatus can make great pets for both novices and experienced aquarists. They are relatively easy to care for, inexpensive to feed, have interesting behaviors, and can even be tamed to an extent if kept at a young age. Still, these fish are very sensitive to water quality issues and must be kept in large tanks that have strong filtration systems.