The long barbels of the catfish contain the taste buds of the catfish and so are often most commonly used for smelling and therefore sensing what is about to eat (and to hide from) in the surrounding waters. Despite the name however, not all catfish species have prominent whisker-like barbels.
There are nearly 3,000 known species of catfish in the world but it is thought that the actual number of catfish species could be as high as 4,500 as many species of catfish are found in areas where there is little or no human contact. Although catfish can generally be found in faster-flowing rivers and streams, some catfish species have adapted to living in shallow salt-water environments while other catfish species live their lives in caves underground.
The average catfish is around a meter in length usually slightly less depending on the species. Catfish however can range in size from just a centimetre in length to more than two meters long. The largest species of catfish is the Mekong catfish, which is found inhabiting parts of the Mekong river that flows through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The largest Mekong catfish ever found measured nearly 3 meters in length.
Catfish generally have a carnivorous diet, although the tiny catfish species have been known to ingest small aquatic plants. Catfish tend to feed on fish, insects and worms that dwell close to the river bed, along with amphibians such as frogs and newts and occasionally small reptiles and mammals.
Due to the wide diversity and range of the catfish, the catfish has numerous predators all around the world. Large fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and even birds all prey on the 3,000 different catfish species.
Female catfish spawn (lay their eggs) close to the surface of the water where they are safe from other bottom-dwelling aquatic animals. Female catfish lay between 10 and 90 little eggs at a time which hatch in less than a week.