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Channel Catfish ( Ictalurus punctatus ). By Josh Otten. Channel Catfish ( Ictalurus punctatus ). Also known as spotted cat, blue cat, river catfish, fiddler, willow cat Identification: skin instead of scales upper jaw longer than the lower jaw whiskers around mouth

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channel catfish ictalurus punctatus
Channel Catfish(Ictalurus punctatus)

By Josh Otten

channel catfish ictalurus punctatus2
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Also known as spotted cat, blue cat, river catfish, fiddler, willow cat


  • skin instead of scales
  • upper jaw longer than the lower jaw
  • whiskers around mouth
  • dorsal and pectoral spines are sharp and deeply serrated
  • slender body/deeply forked tail
  • anal fin curved/24-30 rays (blue has 30+)
  • body is bluish silver on the sides and generally has dark spots
  • shading to silvery white on belly

channel catfish ictalurus punctatus4
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)



anal fin has 24-29 soft rays

tail not deeply forked


30 or more rays in the anal fin

All photos

channel catfish ictalurus punctatus5
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
  • can live as long as 25 years
  • state record 36 pounds 8 ounces
  • max 60 pounds (world record 58 pounds)
  • Typical Adult
    • Length: about 24 inches
    • Weight: about 20 pounds
    • Life span: about 11 years
channel catfish ictalurus punctatus6
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)


  • found in most large streams, lakes, and many farm ponds
  • prefer areas with deep water, clean gravel boulder substrates and low to moderate current
  • tolerant of a wide range of conditions
  • during the day found in deep holes with protection of logs and rock
  • most movement occurs during feeding, around sunrise and sunset
channel catfish ictalurus punctatus7
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)



channel catfish ictalurus punctatus8
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)


  • use taste buds in the sensitive barbels and throughout the skin to locate prey
  • primarily but not excessively bottom feeders
  • omnivorous feeder/prefer smellier foods
    • less than 14” primarily eat aquatic insect larvae and other invertebrates found on bottom
    • over 14” primarily eat dead or alive fish
    • also eat aquatic and terrestrial worms, frogs, crayfish, mollusks, mulberries, elm seeds and algae
channel catfish ictalurus punctatus9
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)


  • sexual maturity comes at five to eight years of age
  • begin spawning when water temperatures reach 70 °F
  • male channel cat builds a nest in underwater holes, logs or among submerged rocks
  • use natural cavities, undercut banks and muskrat burrows as nests
  • female lays a gelatinous mass containing between 8,000 to 15,000 eggs
  • parents remain over the nest to fan the eggs and guard the young after hatching
channel catfish ictalurus punctatus10
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)


  • none but raised in hatcheries and fish farms and distributed commercially

Economic Importance:

  • commonly in supermarkets and on restaurant menus
  • heavily stocked in any water that will hold them
  • important commercial fish
  • considered one of the best-eating freshwater fish
  • most familiar and popular catfish in North America

Ecological Importance

  • forages bottom, cleans up carrion
  • eats smaller fish


Becker, G. C.  1983.  Fishes of Wisconsin. Univ. Wis. Press, Madison.

Carlander, K. D.  1969.  Handbook of freshwater fishery biology. Vol. 1. Life history data on freshwater fishes of the United States and Canada, exclusive of the Perciformes. Iowa St. Univ. Press, Ames.

Jenkins, R.E and N.M. Burkhead. 1993. Freshwater Fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Robinson, E.H., M.H. Li, and B.B. Manning. 2001. A Practical Guide to Nutrition, Feeds, and Feeding of Catfish (Second Revision). Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Bulletin 1113. Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi.

Scott, W. B. and E. J. Crossman.  1973.  Freshwater fishes of Canada. Fish. Res. Bd. Can. Bull. 184:1-966.

yellow bullhead

Yellow Bullhead

Ameiurus natalis

Family Ictaluridae

  • Depressed body shape
  • Flat head
  • 4 sets of barbels
  • Dark olive/brown with yellow sides and belly
  • Small eyes
  • Adipose fin present
  • Lighter color barbels than Black Bullhead
  • Up to 4 lbs. max
  • W.R. 4.4 lbs
  • Slightly mottled
  • Black margin evident on anal and caudal fin

Iowa DNR

  • Range:
  • Southeastern Ontario West to Southern North Dakota and south throughout the Central and Eastern United States.
  • Statewide IA: except N.W. corner

  • Habitat:
  • Ideal Temperature 72-80 F.
  • Highly Vegetated
  • Rivers, Streams, Lakes, etc. with slow moving water
  • Bottom Dwellers

Photo by: Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves

  • Diet:
  • Minnows,
  • Snails
  • Larvae
  • Crustaceans
  • Aquatic Insects
  • Benthic Foragers
  • Forage mainly at night
  • Reproduction:
  • Spawn from May to Early June
    • Male Constructs Nest
    • Usually under structure (Stump)
    • 2,000 – 5,000 eggs
    • Eggs Hatch in 5 – 10 days
    • Both parents guard young until late summer

Photo by: E.R. Degginger

Conservation Status:

Exotic Species

Proliferates well


Main factor in lake degradation

Sediment mixing

Considered from Rough to Game fish

No Federal or State protection status

Survive extreme poor water conditions

black bullhead ameiurus melas chris steffen

Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas)Chris Steffen

Other Local Names:


Iowa DNR




dark olive to black, belly

white to bright yellow, tail fin slightly notched with light band at base


quiet river backwaters, impoundments, ponds, lakes, and slow moving streams typically over soft bottoms; tolerates muddy water, warm temps, and low oxygen concentrations


Barbed Pectoral Spines?


Tail Shape

Chin Barbel Color

Distinct Feature

Black Bullhead

Light band at base of tail fin

Slightly Notched

Gray to Black


Brown Bullhead

Mottled Sides and Back

Gray to Black



Yellow Bullhead

White, not pigmented



Dark Spots on Sides

Channel Catfish

Deeply Notched

White to Dusky


black bullhead ameiurus melas
Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas)


insects, small fish, crayfish, frogs, plant material (live or dead); basically anything it can get in its mouth.


female excavates a saucer-shaped nest in early summer and lays on average 2,000-6,000 eggs; one or both parents protect young until one to two inches long

Conservation Status:

common, sometimes considered an undesirable species

Ouachita National Forest

black bullhead ameiurus melas24
Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas)


  • Commonly 6-10 inches
  • World Record 8lbs.
  • State Record 5lbs. 8oz.

Murray State University

Gary Cole

black bullhead ameiurus melas25
Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas)

Economic/Recreational value:

popular species with Iowa’s anglers; in 1981 50,000 harvested in Mississippi river worth ~ $10,000

Ecological Importance:

serves as prey species for piscivores when small; one of a few species able to survive under poor lake conditions

Los Vegas Wash Coordination Committee

references ameiurus melas

Eddy, S. and J.C. Underhill. 1978. How to Know the Freshwater Fishes. 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill, Boston. 215 pp.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa’s threatened and endangered species. Available athttp://www. October 2004.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Minnesota Fish. Available at head.html. October 2004.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Fish and Wildlife. Available at ing/aquanotesfishid/chancat.htm. October 2004.

Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr. 1991. Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 pp.

Pflieger, W. L. 1997. The Fishes of Missouri, Revised Edition. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City Missouri.

References: Ameiurus melas

Brown Bullhead

(Ameiurus nebulosus, LeSueur)

Chris Lee

Iowa DNR

Other common names: Bullhead, horned pout, red cat, creek cat, mud cat, speckled bullhead, and common bullhead.

Other scientific names:Ictalurus nebulosus (Armstrong 1962).


Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)

  • Identification: Olive to brown with dark mottlings on sidesfading to cream/white underneath. Fleshy whiskers (barbels) dusty to black. Relatively short anal fin with 22-23 rays. Rear of caudal fin slightly notched.
    • May be confused with Black bullhead, (Ameiurus melas).
    • However, A. nebulosus has 5-8 large sawlike teeth on rear of pectoral spine whereas A. melas has none.
    • Also, A. nebulosus does not have black membranes contrasting with pale rays on caudal and anal fins.

Brown bullhead

Black bullhead


Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)

Distribution: Not common anywhere in IA, but is widely distributed in the northern part of the state. Very few found in interior waters. Most taken from the upper Mississippi backwater sloughs.

A. Nebulosus is native and common to the Atlantic and Gulf slope drainages.

Habitat: Slow moving or stagnant parts of rivers, and streams, also ponds, lakes, and pools that offer a soft bottom.

Iowa DNR

Diet: Brown Bullheads are schooling bottom feeders that feed primarily on crustaceans, insect larvae, worms, snails, crayfish, and small fish, though they will eat virtually anything available, either alive or dead. A large part of their diet is midgefly larvae, or “bloodworms” which they pick up off of the soft bottom ooze. Teeth in pads on both top and bottom jaws; used for tearing food. They seem to have ravenous appetites and will eat day or night.


Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)

Reproduction: Spawn in late April or May. Males fan out a saucer-shaped nest where females lay 2,000 to 10,000+ eggs that hatch in 5-8. Both parents guard the eggs during incubation and herd young around for several weeks after hatching. Young reach 2-1/2 – 4 inches in first year and mature in 3 years. Can reach two pounds. (IA Record: 2-1/2 pounds, no specific species given though. World Record: 6 lbs, 1oz., NY)

Economic/Recreational Importance: Popular game species where they exist.

Ecological Importance:Not much due to their lack of distribution and non-predacious lifestyle.

Conservation Status: Abundant. Limit is same as catfish (?): DBL = 8 lake, 15 stream, PL = 30. No limit in Mississippi River.

Other: Can reach 2+ pounds under ideal conditions, but most commonly range from 8-10 inches and less than a pound

Konrad Schmidt, University of Minnesota


References: Ameiurus nebulosus

Armstrong, P.B., and J.S. Child (Illus.) 1962. Stages in the development of Ictalurus nebulosus. Syracuse University Press, NY.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources. IowaDNR Fish and Fishing: Brown Bullhead. Available at: October 2004. 2004. Brown Bullhead. October 2004.

___. 2004. Black Bullhead. October 2004.

Mayhew, J. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Des Moines, Iowa.

Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr. 1991. Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

flathead catfish

Pylodictis olivaris

  • Dark to olive-brown with dark brownish mottlings on the sides
  • Tan to yellow colors on their ventral sides from swimming on sand and light bottoms
  • The anal fin is very short with 15-17 rays
  • The head is broad and flat
  • The lower mandible is longer than the upper unlike channels or blues

Iowa DNR

distribution habitat

Where Can I find Flatheads:

  • Submerged Brushpiles
  • Logjams
  • Slack Water just off main Channel
  • Sandy Areas

Distribution: Most of Iowa and its mid to large

size rivers. Common in many other areas

of the US also.

diet reproduction
  • Spawning occurs in June and July Flatheads are nest builders
  • Grow 2-6 inches in the first year
  • Sexually mature in their 3 or 4 year
  • Adult diet consists usually of small to mid size fish
  • Smaller fish eat crayfish and minnows
conservation status
Conservation status
  • Flathead Catfish are not protected in any way
  • Are a popular recreational fish that are healthy in population numbers
economic recreational importance
Economic/Recreational importance
  • Commercial fishermen along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers bring in $32,500 yearly from the Mississippi
  • Flatheads are a highly sought after fish by Iowa Fisherman.


Noodling- The art of sticking your

arm in a hole hoping a catfish latches

down on it so you can pull it out.

Some think its crazy, some think

it’s the best thing in the world.

Flatheads are the oldest fish behind

Armorplated sturgeon


Mayhew, J. (editor). 1987. Iowa Fish and Fishing. Iowa Department. Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Des Moines, Iowa. 323 pp.

Department of Natural Resources. 2004. Iowa DNR Fish and Fishing

CatfishnFlatheads. 2003.

blackstripe topminnow
Blackstripe Topminnow

Fundulus notatus

By Emily Mae Hoffman

Ohio DNR

  • Prominent black stripe from snout to caudal fin
  • Flattened head and nape
  • Silver-white spot on top of head
  • Incomplete lateral line
  • Epiterminal mouth with small teeth on both jaws
  • Dorsal fin begins behind anal fin
  • Adults are 1.5-2.5 inches long, max. is 3 inches

Illinois DNR

  • Small streams in Eastern Iowa
  • Low current
  • Travel in pairs
  • Swim near water surface

Iowa DNR

  • Feed on water surface
  • Aquatic and terrestrial insects
  • Crustaceans
  • Snails
  • Algae
  • Feed in morning, late afternoon, and evening
  • Summer spawning season
  • Male and female lay side by side on aquatic vegetation
  • Female deposits eggs singly on aquatic vegetation
  • 20-30 eggs are deposited at one time, and is usually repeated after several days
  • No further care is provided
conservation status44
Conservation Status
  • Common in Eastern Iowa
  • Population doubling rate of less than 15 months
  • Can survive harsh environmental conditions due to breathing oxygen-rich surface water
  • Is threatened in some states due to water pollution and habitat destruction

University of Michigan

ecological importance
Ecological Importance
  • Preyed upon by larger fish
  • Known to jump out of the water to avoid predators
  • Hide motionless in aquatic vegetation
  • When feeding, their image reflects on the water surface. When a predator approaches, they dart one way and their image goes another way, which confuses the predator.

Fundulus notatus. August 2004. Available at October 2004.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 2003. Illinois Fishes Families/Species. Available at October 2004.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 1987. IowaDNR Fish and Fishing. Available at October 2004.

brook stickleback culaea inconstans

Brook SticklebackCulaea inconstans


Shannon Lydic

Natural History Fishes

culaea inconstans
Culaea inconstans
  • Identification: Deeply compressed; 4-7 short dorsal spines; olive green dorsally with yellow spots or wavy lines
  • Distribution: Streams and lakes in northern half Iowa
brook stickleback50
Brook Stickleback
  • Habitat: Prefers moderate current; sand to gravel bottom; clean to slightly turbid waters
  • Diet: aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, worms, snails, and sometimes fish eggs; occasionally algae
  • What eats them: Brook Trout, Walleye, Basses, and fish-eating birds
brook stickleback51
Brook Stickleback
  • Reproduction: Males build nests in late spring (May-June). Males secrete white cement chemical to attach nest to vegetation. The nest is made of organic material, algae, and other debris. Female releases 100-500 eggs.
  • Conservation: Brook Stickleback is not considered threatened or endangered.
  • Ecological Importance: Serve as natural mosquito control
references culaea inconstans
References: Culaea inconstans

Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 2004.

Fishes of Minnesota: Brook Stickleback. 2003.

Carter, G.R., and J.D. Williams. 2002. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes Revised Edition. pp. 270-271. Chanticleer Press, Inc, New York.

Page, L.M., and B.M. Burr. 1991. pp.242-243. Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.