The Catfishes belong in the family Ictaluridae. The family comprises 37 species, which encompass a wide range of sizes. Two North American species, the Blue and Flathead Catfishes, exceed 100 pounds, yet most of the Bullheads will typically grow no longer than 15 inches. The Madtoms are smaller still, with most species growing to a maximum of 5 inches or less. The Electric Catfish, Malapterurus electricus, native to Africa, is capable of producing an electric charge of up to 350 volts, enough to stun a human. There are two species of catfish in Texas that do not have eyes.
The Catfish takes its name from the four pairs of long, flexible barbels or “Cat whiskers” on its head. Complete with taste buds (which are found on the skin and fins as well), the barbels help the catfish to test the taste and feel of objects and enable it to locate food in turbid water.
Catfish can inflict painful wounds with their sharply pointed pectoral and dorsal spines, and some species have small venom glands at the bases of these fins. Curiously, the venom of the Madtoms, the smallest of the Catfishes, produces the most painful wound. When
alarmed, a Catfish will rigidly lock its spines at right angles to its body, a formidable posture that repels most predators or intruders.
Because Catfish are most active at night, they must depend more on their chemical senses—taste and smell—than on see their food. Catfish, as well as several other kinds of fishes, can locate a food item and decide whether it is desirable without first seeing the food or taking it into the mouth. In muddy water, Catfish are better able to find food than are other fishes.
Thirteen kinds of catfish occur in Kansas. Six of the native Catfish in Kansas are so small and secretive that they are never seen by many people. A few curious anglers do know about them, and probably gave them their common name, “Madtoms.”Some Channel Catfish are mistakenly called “Blue Catfish” by anglers. We hope that by creating Kansasfishes.com that problems like this will be ended.