Siluriformes – Catfish & allies

Able to locate food in low-visibility conditions using their barbels

They are recognized by their elongated bodies, smooth and scaleless skin, and prominent barbels, often called “whiskers,” surrounding their mouths. These whiskers serve as highly sensitive sensory organs, aiding catfish in locating prey even in turbid or murky waters. One key characteristic distinguishing catfish from many other freshwater species is their lack of scales. Instead, their skin is smooth and slimy, offering protection against abrasions and infections.

Another notable feature of catfish is their strong, retractable spines in their dorsal and pectoral fins. These spines serve a dual purpose – they are a defense mechanism against potential predators and can deliver a painful sting when handled improperly. This defense mechanism adds to the intrigue surrounding catfish.

Catfish are highly adaptable and can be found in freshwater ecosystems on nearly every continent except Antarctica. Their ability to thrive in diverse environments is a testament to their resilience. Catfish have successfully made these habitats their home, whether it’s the flowing waters of rivers and streams, serene lakes, secluded ponds, or even underground waters. Some species have even evolved to inhabit brackish environments with varying salinity levels. In contrast, others have adapted to arid regions with seasonal water fluctuations, demonstrating their impressive ability to conquer many ecological niches.

Beyond their unique characteristics and adaptability, catfish hold considerable ecological and economic value. They play vital roles in maintaining the balance of aquatic ecosystems by controlling populations of small prey species and serving as prey for larger predators. Additionally, catfish are a significant food source for many human communities worldwide and contribute to global fisheries and aquaculture.