Celebrate Iowa’s Catfish

Celebrate National Catfish Day (annually on June 25) by learning more about Iowa’s most abundant and widely distributed sport fish.

Catfish are opportunistic bottom feeders that are active at night. They eat all types of living or dead animal and plant material and are most often attracted to odoriferous or “smelly” morsels of food. They depend heavily on their sense of smell and taste to locate food.

Their characteristic barbels are highly sensitive to touch and contain taste buds as well. Catfish have taste receptors all over their bodies. It has been estimated that an adult bullhead has perhaps 100,000 nerve sensory sites on its body.

Iowa Catfish

  • channel catfish: abundant in most Iowa rivers and have been stocked in nearly all lakes and reservoirs; spawn in the late spring and summer in secluded, often enclosed, places along the bank or bottom – the male guards the eggs until they hatch; eat at all times, but are most aggressive night; an important part of the commercial fishery catch in the Mississippi River
  • flathead catfish: one of the largest catfish- commonly reach twenty pounds; a “big-water” fish found mainly in the border rivers and large interior rivers; usually in deep pools with mud bottoms; spawn in secluded hides during June and July – build nests and guard the eggs and young; feed mostly at night; an important part of the commercial fishery catch in the Mississippi River
  • blue catfish: primarily a “big river” fish; spawn in June and early July – construct nests similar to those of channel catfish; omnivorous and eat everything that is available; adults weighing up to 20 or 25 pounds are common
  • black bullhead: most common of the three bullhead species; abundant in most natural lakes and some man-made lakes; spawns in May or early June usually in weedy or muddy shallow areas; strictly omnivorous – eating nearly every conceivable thing in the water
  • yellow bullhead: found in clear streams, rivers, overflow pools, lakes and reservoirs; prefers streams with permanent flow, but avoids strong currents; spawns in May and early June in water from 1 1/2 to 4 feet in depth – nests are constructed by the male and the female deposits 2,000 to 7,000 eggs
  • brown bullhead: found in swamps, ponds, inland pools, lakes, reservoirs, impoundments, and the backwaters and tributaries of larger rivers; prefers clear, cool, well-vegetated waters with bottoms of sand, gravel, or dark muck; spawns early in the spring, usually late April or May – male fish fan out a saucer-shaped nest in the mud or nests in natural cavities where the female deposits eggs; feed eagerly on nearly anything available, either living or dead – travel in schools and feed on or near the bottom; seem to be hungry at all times of the day and night
  • tadpole madtom: found in large interior rivers and the Mississippi River; females usually mate several times during the June through July breeding period; most active at night – eats insects and occasionally algae and other aquatic plants; have a poison gland at the base of the pectoral fin that secretes a mild but painful venom when danger is threatened
  • slender madtom: found in major tributary streams of the Mississippi River; live entirely in riffle areas of small or medium size streams
  • stone cat: largest of the madtoms; found in swift-flowing streams; spawns in the spring in areas of darkness, such as under rocks or in bank hides – builds a nest and guards the eggs and young; prefer stream riffle habitats, but are also found under rocks or weedy shorelines of lakes and ponds
  • freckled madtom:  an endangered species – added to Iowa’s species list in 1984; prefers medium-sized creeks to large rivers of low to moderate gradient with clear to moderate turbidity and silty-gravel or sand-gravel substrates; often found in riffles and pools where organic debris such as leaves or twigs tend to accumulate

Helpful Links:

Aquatic WILD activities to add to your lesson:

  • Aquatic Roots – categorize local aquatic plants and animals and evaluate the appropriateness of introducing new species
  • Fashion a Fish – classification of fish according to their body shape and coloration, describe their adaptations and the importance of their adaptations
  • Fishable Waters – evaluate how healthy fish populations provide multiple benefits for their community
  • Fishy Who’s Who – identify fish in their area and learn about the fish individually

Cross-reference to these WILD units: