There are three primary types of catfish: blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish. But, there are other catfish species outside of the three main types. Let’s have a look at them.

Three Main Types of Catfish

Let’s start by learning about the three main catfish types and how to tell the difference between the three of them.

blue catfish vs channel catfish vs flathead catfish - how to tell these three catfish species apart.

Blue Catfish

The blue catfish is sometimes misidentified as the channel catfish. Blue catfish are large and have smooth skin.

Their bodies are a slate blue color and, of course, they have whisker-like barbels around the mouth.

The blue catfish is the largest species of North American catfish, reaching a length of 165 cm and a weight of 68 kg. The typical length is about 25–46 in. The fish can live to 20 years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_catfish

They live in main channels, tributaries, and impoundments of major river systems. Blue catfish travel upstream in search of cooler temperatures in the summer and travel down south in the winter to get to warmer temperatures.

These types of freshwater catfish species are native to Ohio, Missouri, and the Mississippi River. However, they are known to be in habitats as far south as Guatemala and Mexico.

  • Scientific name: Ictalurus furcatus
  • Mass: 83 lbs (Adult)
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Found in: Mississippi River, Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Gaston, etc.

Channel Catfish

Another of the most common types of freshwater catfish is the channel catfish. It’s sometimes confused with the blue catfish but there are subtle differences that’ll help you identify them.

The average size channel catfish you could expect to find in most waterways is between 2 and 4 pounds. These types of catfish have a deeply forked tail similar to blue catfish but the coloring is much different (a distinguishing feature).

Channel catfish have an olive brown to slate color and sometimes there are shades of blue and grey on the sides. Their bellies are white or silvery white. 

The channel catfish is North America’s most numerous catfish species. It is the official fish of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, and is informally referred to as a “channel cat”. In the United States, they are the most fished catfish species with around 8 million anglers targeting them per year.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_catfish

Channel catfish are plentiful in large streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs with low or moderate current.

  • Scientific name: Ictalurus punctatus
  • Mass: 30 lbs (Adult)
  • Conservation status: Least Concern (Population increasing)
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Found in: Lake Mead, Lake Berryessa, Lake Powell, etc.

Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish

Do you want to be able to tell the difference between a blue cat and a channel cat? Here are some important points to remember:

Blue Catfish:

  • Slate blue to white coloring
  • Anal fin is flat (when laid flat it forms a straight line)
  • Anal fin has between thirty and thirty six rays

Channel Catfish

  • Olive brown to grey coloring
  • Rounded anal fin (laid flat it curves out like a letter “c”)
  • Twenty-four to twenty-nine rays in the anal fin
  • Often has dark spots, but these spots can be absent in adult fish
blue catfish vs channel catfish	- catfish identification.
Blue Catfish vs Channel Catfish

Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish or mud catfish… Wait, these guys have a lot of names! Yellow Cat, Opelousa Catfish, Opp, Appaloosa Catfish, App, Pied Cat, Shovelhead Cat…

Nonetheless, no matter what name you call them, flathead catfish are the most most common variety of catfish in the United States.

These types of catfish have flatheads, hence the name, and they are typically yellow in color. Hence their other name, yellow cat. The actual color is more olive-brown and other than the flathead, they really look like other species of catfish.

The flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris), also called by several names including mudcat or shovelhead cat, is a large species of North American freshwater catfish. It is the only species of the genus Pylodictis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flathead_catfish

These guys prefer to live in the deep pools of creeks where the water is cloudy and currents are very slow.

Other Catfish Species

Great! We’ve got the three main kinds of catfish out of the way. So, we can get into the other catfish types that you can find.

By the way, just like guppies, some eel species, and crabs, catfish are a popular pet for home aquariums, in case you are looking for a pet! You can shop for fish online too!

Cory Catfish

Corydoras or the cory catfish are a popular choice of pet for aquariums. These species of catfish grow up to 3 inches in length and have a relatively long lifespan of 20 years.

Corydoras is a genus of freshwater catfish in the family Callichthyidae and subfamily Corydoradinae.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corydoras

Cory cats are also gentle and non-violent and they are easy to care for. They’re omnivorous so a mixture of a plant & meat-based diet is best. These are some of the popular types of tropical fish to keep as pets.

  • Family: Callichthyidae
  • Scientific name: Corydoras
  • Order: Siluriformes
  • Rank: Genus
  • Higher classification: Corydoradinae

Glass Catfish

Glass catfish get their name because they are the only catfish species with transparent bodies. You can see the organs, bones, their entire insides if you look close enough.

The glass catfish lives in slow-moving rivers and streams and their transparent body helps them to hide from predators (the octopus must be jealous).

Kryptopterus vitreolus, known in the aquarium trade traditionally as the glass catfish and also as the ghost catfish or phantom catfish, is a small species of Asian glass catfish. It is commonly seen in the freshwater aquarium trade, but its taxonomy is confusing and was only fully resolved in 2013.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kryptopterus_vitreolus

Pictus Catfish

The pictus catfish is native to the Orinoco and Amazon basins. Their signature identifying feature is their long barbels. These little guys grow up to 5 inches in length.

They have a pale to gray body with a black spotted pattern, a forked tail, a downturned mouth, and sharp spines on their dorsal fin. 

Pimelodus pictus, also known as the pictus cat or pictus catfish, is a small member of the catfish family Pimelodidae, native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins and commonly kept as a pet in freshwater aquariums.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pimelodus_pictus
  • Scientific name: Pimelodus pictus
  • Rank: Species
  • Higher classification: Pimelodus
  • Family: Pimelodidae
  • Phylum: Chordata

Upside Down Catfish

The next fish on our catfish species list is the upside down catfish. By now, you can guess why? Yes? This species of catfish are known to swim upside down.

They also go by the names mochokid catfish, blotched upside-down catfish or false upside-down catfish.

As its common name implies, the upside-down catfish will swim upside-down. One theory accounts for this unusual behavior as a feeding strategy. In the wild, it often grazes on the undersides of submerged branches and logs, and swimming upside-down makes these areas more accessible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upside-down_catfish

They grow up to an average of 3 to 4 inches in length. Their bodies are often times light brown with dotted spots throughout.

Otocinclus Catfish

These dwarf suckers, that’s actually another name for the otocinclus catfish, are tiny scavengers that grow up to two inches in length. They are very docile (peaceful) fish and make great tank mates with other non-aggressive fish.

These little catfish are known to be good at cleaning glass by eating the algae that grow on it or picking particles from plants in the aquarium.

Otocinclus is a genus of catfish in the family Loricariidae native to South America which are commonly called “dwarf suckers” or “otos”. This genus, like other loricariids is characterized by rows of armour plating covering the body, as well as the underslung suckermouth.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otocinclus
  • Scientific name: Otocinclus
  • Higher classification: Hypoptopomatinae
  • Rank: Genus
  • Family: Loricariidae
  • Kingdom: Animalia

Bristlenose Pleco

These types of catfish are also algae eaters which makes them a good addition to your aquarium as they help maintain the cleanliness of the tank.

The bristlenose pleco can grow up to 5 inches in length and are gray, brown and green in color, often with yellow or white spots.

Ancistrus is a genus of nocturnal freshwater fish in the family Loricariidae of order Siluriformes, native to freshwater habitats in South America and Panama. Fish of this genus are common in the aquarium trade where known as bushynose or bristlenose catfish.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancistrus
  • Family: Loricariidae
  • Scientific name: Ancistrus
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Order: Catfish
  • Rank: Genus
  • Higher classification: Hypostominae

Striped Raphael Catfish

This species of catfish can live between 12 to 20 years and are known for making various sounds which persons liken to talking (fish-talk at least).

Striped Raphael catfish have large heads and an arrow-shaped body that’s striped in black and yellow. They typically scavenge the bottom of river beds for food.

Striped Raphael catfish is a catfish of the family Doradidae. It may also be called Southern striped Raphael, talking catfish, chocolate doradid, chocolate catfish or thorny catfish. It is native to the Amazon, Paraguay–Paraná and lower Orinoco basins in South America.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_Raphael_catfish
  • Scientific name: Platydoras armatulus
  • Rank: Species
  • Higher classification: Platydoras
  • Family: Doradidae
  • Phylum: Chordata

Bumblebee Catfish

Bumblebee catfish grow up to 3.5 inches in length and can live for up to 5 years in ideal living conditions.

They get their name because of the yellow and black stripes around their body that look like the colors of a bumblebee.

The bumblebee catfish is a small catfish which is also known as the South American Bumblebee Catfish. It is a tropical fish and is native to Venezuela. The bumblebee catfish is found in clear, moderate to strong flowing waters of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, the Amazon basin and other areas of northern South America.

https://aquaticmag.com/freshwater/fish/bumblebee-catfish-information/

Chinese Algae Eater

These types of catfish are another one of the catfish species that eat algae. The Chinese algae eater is also known as the lemon algae eater or sucker fish.

These fish can live up to 10 years and can grow up to a length of 1 inch. They have a golden hue with black spots over their body.

Gyrinocheilus aymonieri is a freshwater fish native to large parts of Southeast Asia. It is of interest as a local food source and for the aquarium trade. Its common names include honey sucker, sucking loach, Chinese algae eater, and Siamese algae eater; the FAO-endorsed common name is Siamese algae eater. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyrinocheilus_aymonieri
  • Family: Gyrinocheilidae
  • Conservation status: Least Concern (Population decreasing)
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Higher classification: Gyrinocheilus
  • Order: Cypriniformes

Wels Catfish

The average wels catfish can grow up to 5 feet long and can weigh up to 50 pounds. They are the only types of catfish that are native to Europe.

It’s also one of the few species of catfish that change color depending on their environment. For example, their skin color changes to a black hue in clear water while muddy water turns them to a greenish-brown color.

The wels catfish, also called sheatfish, is a large species of catfish native to wide areas of central, southern, and eastern Europe, in the basins of the Baltic, Black, and Caspian Seas. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wels_catfish
  • Mass: 370 lbs (Adult)
  • Lifespan: 60 years (In captivity)
  • Scientific name: Silurus glanis
  • Conservation status: Least Concern
  • Family: Siluridae
  • Found in: Lake Constance, Caspian Sea, Lake Bled, etc.
types of catfish and catfish species.
A catfish on a riverbank.

Iridescent Shark

Iridescent sharks, also known as the siamese shark or sutchi catfish, are a species of catfish native to Asia. They are one of the best tropical fish to keep as pets.

  • Scientific name: Pangasianodon hypophthalmus
  • Family: Pangasiidae
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Conservation status: Endangered (Population decreasing) 
  • Order: Catfish
  • Found in: Wadaslintang Reservoir

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. Great job with the visuals you picked for this catfish species guide! Thanks for mentioning Lake Havasu. Among the fish species thriving in our lake are yellow, bullhead, flathead and channel catfish. For more information, check out the Lake Havasu fish species guide on our website.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. We’ve updated the article to reflect the different types of catfish at Lake Havasu!

Leave a comment