How Did the Catfish Get Its Name?
Catfish get their name from the long barbels, or catlike whiskers, around their mouths. The barbels are covered with taste buds that enable the fish to find food. When searching around at the bottom of a lake or river, the catfish trails its barbels along the muddy bottom.
Each barbel is loaded with tiny taste buds and special olfactory sensors to help the fish smell. Catfish tend to live in dark, murky waters where their vision isn’t very useful. Barbels help the fish search out food using their senses of touch and taste.
When a good taste turns up, the catfish shovels for it with its snout. Catfish have large appetites and will eat almost anything they can find – alive or dead. Catfish are a prize for anybody who likes to fish. They bite at any kind of bait, can put up a battle and are very tasty.
Though it may seem obvious how the catfish got its name, these barbel whiskers are not the only reason. When caught, catfish make a noise that sounds a bit like a cat purring. But this may be where the similarities between catfish and cats end. Catfish can easily grow to become much larger than a cat — and sometimes even larger than a kid!
Catfish are a diverse group of ray-finned fish, ranging in size and behavior from the three largest species, the Mekong giant catfish from Southeast Asia, the wels catfish of Eurasia and the Piraíba of South America, to detritivores (species that eat dead material on the bottom), and even to a tiny parasitic species commonly called the candiru, Vandellia cirrhosa. There are armour-plated types and there are also naked types, neither having scales.
Despite their name, not all catfish have prominent barbel. Members of the Siluriformes order are defined by features of the skull and swim bladder. Catfish are of considerable commercial importance; many of the larger species are farmed or fished for food.
Many of the smaller species, particularly the genus Corydoras, are important in the aquarium hobby. Many catfish are nocturnal, but others (many Auchenipteridae) are crepuscular or diurnal (most Loricariidae or Callichthyidae for example).