White Catfish

A. catus

Last updated: November 21, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© M Huston/Shutterstock.com

White catfish can grow up to 37 inches in size.


White Catfish Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
A. catus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

White Catfish Locations

White Catfish Locations

White Catfish Facts

Small fish, crustaceans, and insects
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Social
Fun Fact
White catfish can grow up to 37 inches in size.
Biggest Threat
Most Distinctive Feature
Long, white barbels around their mouth.
Other Name(s)
White Bullhead
Peaceful and social
Optimum pH Level
7.0 to 8.0
Sluggish, mud-bottom bodies of water with channels such as rivers and backwaters
Eagles, turtles, osprey, and larger fish
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Crustaceans, insects, aquatic plants
Common Name
White Catfish
Eastern United States coastal regions
Number Of Species
United States and Mexico

White Catfish Physical Characteristics

  • Grey
  • Dark Grey
Skin Type
14 years
0.5 to 3 pounds
10 to 18 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
3 to 4 years

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White Catfish Summary

The white catfish (Ameiurus catus), also known as the white bullhead, is one of the smallest species of the large North American catfish. They are native to the coastal river systems in the eastern United States and are freshwater fish that prefer to inhabit rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and streams with muddy bottoms.

White catfish are bottom feeders and spend most of their time foraging for food through the substrates and vegetation at the bottom of slow-moving waters. They can now be found throughout the United States and have distinctive features that make them easy to spot in water systems.

3 Facts About White Catfish

  • They are considered the smallest catfish out of all the other North American catfish species.
  • These fish have white chin barbels, which may be where they get their name, considering their bodies are not completely white.
  • They can tolerate a higher salinity content in their water than many other species of catfish, although they are classified as freshwater fish.

White Catfish Appearance

White catfish have a dark grey back that is smooth and shiny, with a white underbelly and forked tail fin. The dark grey color can also take on a slight blue-greenish hue or it can appear faintly mottled. They are not albino and are not completely white in color.

The head is wide with a slit mouth surrounded by eight long barbels. The barbels allow them to taste and sense their food with excellent skill, as well as forage at the bottom of muddy substrates, rocks, and aquatic vegetation. The ray fins consist of a forked caudal fin and a black adipose fin. The pectoral and dorsal fin are sharp and spiny.

Adult white catfish grow up to 37 inches (93 cm) in length and weigh up to 19 pounds, which is quite big! However, it is common to find these catfish only reaching an 8-to-17-inch (20-43 cm) length and weighing around five to eight pounds.

white catfish

White catfish are one of the smallest species of North American catfish.

©M Huston/Shutterstock.com

Distribution, Population, and Habitat


The native ranges of the white catfish include the Gulf slope and Atlantic drainages through to the lower Hudson River, Apalachicola basin in Florida, New York, and the Peace River drainage. They inhabit different rivers, lakes, streams, reservoirs, and drainages in the United States and their natural range has extended due to their tolerance to salt in different water systems.


Since they were introduced into different waters, the populations have become established. These fish grow and reproduce well in their native water systems where the populations have become stable and are a “least concern” on the IUCN red list.


White catfish are freshwater fish that primarily inhabit a variety of different ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, drainage systems, and reservoirs that have open channels and backwaters leading into large rivers. They prefer sluggish, warm waters with a muddy bottom where they spend most of their time foraging for food. Unlike other catfish, they inhabit water systems with a high salinity content. They can live in both large bodies of water in streams and lakes, as well as small drainage systems, reservoirs, and ponds that lead to larger rivers in the United States.

White Catfish Predators and Prey

These fish are omnivores and opportunistic feeders that forage for food in muddy substrates along the bottom of their habitat. They prey on small, vulnerable fish species, crustaceans, and insects. They will also eat the eggs of fish and crustaceans or the larvae of insects. White catfish will also eat aquatic plants alongside live foods. They fall prey to predators such as eagles, osprey, turtles, and larger fish.

White Catfish In Fishing and Cooking

This fish is very popular for angular fishing. They are usually stocked in private ponds and lakes for this very purpose. They are tasty and have firm white flesh that cooks well. Because they are more active during the day than other species of catfish, they are easier to catch. Handle white catfish appropriately when caught because they have sharp pectoral and dorsal fins that can wound your skin and cause an infection. You can catch them with live bait through still, spin, and drift fishing. Bait such as small minnows, jigs, dough balls, and cut bait work well when fishing for this species.

Reproduction and Lifespan

White catfish reproduction occurs during the months of April to July when the waters start to warm. The mature female deposits a mass of eggs that fall to the bottom of the water systems onto aquatic vegetation, hollow logs, rocks, and undercut banks.

It takes three to four years before they become sexually mature and can begin to reproduce. Males will guard the nest and play a role in the hatching by fanning fresh water over them to ensure they are receiving oxygen. The eggs have a high chance of surviving if the female lays them away from strong currents and the males protect them. Females play a low role in the development of their eggs.

The average lifespan ranges from six to eight years, but they can live up to 14 years in the right conditions.

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About the Author

Sarah is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering aquatic pets, rodents, arachnids, and reptiles. Sarah has over 3 years of experience in writing and researching various animal topics. She is currently working towards furthering her studies in the animal field. A resident of South Africa, Sarah enjoys writing alongside her pets and almost always has her rats perched on her shoulders.

White Catfish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are white catfish found?

White catfish are originally from the eastern coast of the United States; however, they can now be found throughout the United States where they inhabit a range of different freshwater environments. White catfish prefer to live in slow-moving waters like rivers, streams, drainages, reservoirs, ponds, and lakes. It is not uncommon to find white catfish inhabiting a brackish water system because they can tolerate a higher salinity content than other freshwater fish. You can find white catfish in New York all the way to Florida.

What do white catfish eat?

White catfish are omnivores that eat a variety of different small fish, insects, aquatic plants, fish eggs, and crustaceans. They are considered opportunistic feeders and will prey on small fish and crustaceans along with their eggs.

Are white catfish poisonous?

No, white catfish are not poisonous. However, they do have sharp spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins that contain a potent mucous which can cause infectious punctures to your skin. It is important to be cautious when handling catfish and to remove the sharp spines before eating them.

Are white catfish related to bullheads?

White catfish are closely related to bullheads and are often referred to as white bullhead fish. They are both members of the bullhead catfish family, Icatularida.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


  1. Florida Museum / Accessed August 20, 2022
  2. Hooked in Fishing / Accessed August 20, 2022
  3. Wikipedia / Accessed August 20, 2022
  4. USGS / Accessed August 20, 2022

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