What Does Catfish Eat? Surprising Facts About Catfish Diet

What does catfish eat

Have you ever wondered what catfish eat to sustain their mysterious lives beneath the water's surface?

You might be surprised to learn that their diet is as diverse and complex as the waters they inhabit.

From small fish and aquatic plants to invertebrates, fish eggs, fruits, and even carrion, catfish are true omnivores with eclectic tastes.

But what propels their dietary preferences, and how does it impact their habitat and the ecosystem at large?

Stick around to uncover some surprising facts about the catfish diet that could change the way you view these fascinating creatures ...



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Catfish: Omnivores with Diverse Tastes

Catfish, known for their omnivorous diet, enjoy a wide array of foods ranging from algae to small fish.

Their eating habits showcase a flexibility that allows them to flourish in various environments.

As omnivores, they're not picky eaters, plunging on anything edible they come across. This includes plants and smaller creatures, making them effective scavengers in their habitats.

What sets catfish apart in their diet is their acute sense of smell and taste, guiding them to food sources in murky waters where visibility is low.

Whether farm-raised or living wild, catfish adapt their food preferences based on availability. Farm-raised catfish might have a more controlled diet, while wild catfish indulge in a more diverse menu, reflecting the richness of their natural surroundings.

What Does Catfish Eat - Omnivores

The Different Types of Food in Catfish Diet

You'll find that catfish aren't picky eaters at all; they enjoy a varied diet.

Let's see what keeps these fascinating creatures thriving in their aquatic homes.

Small fish

Among the myriad of dietary choices for catfish, small fish serve as a vital component of their nutrition.

Various types of catfish, especially those dwelling in freshwater habitats, rely on these aquatic animals to fulfill their dietary needs. As opportunistic feeders, catfish species exhibit diverse feeding habits.

They utilize their sensitive barbels to find food, efficiently detecting small fish in murky waters. This ability is particularly "important" for young catfish, who need ample nutrition for growth and development.

Remember, whether it's a channel catfish in a river or a blue catfish in a lake, these freshwater fish are adept at adjusting their diet based on availability. Their preference for small fish showcases their adaptability and the intricate balance of aquatic ecosystems.

What Does Catfish Eat - Baitfish in River

Aquatic plants

While small fish form a key part of their diet, catfish also feed on aquatic plants, adding variety to their nutritional intake.

You might not picture these whiskered wonders nibbling on greens, but aquatic plants are a vital part of their environment. This aspect of their diet is essential, not just for the catfish's health but also for aquaculture practices.

By understanding what catfish eat, farmers can better mimic natural habitats, promoting conservation and sustainable fish farming methods. Aquatic plants help in maintaining a balanced ecosystem within these farms, ensuring catfish receive the nutrients they need.

So, next time you picture a catfish, imagine it as not just a predator of the deep but also an occasional vegetarian, contributing to the delicate balance of aquatic life.

What Does Catfish Eat - Aquatic-plants


Let's go deeper into the catfish's diet, it's intriguing to discover that invertebrates also play an essential role in their nutritional intake.

You'll find that these bottom dwellers aren't choosy, feasting on a wide array of invertebrates. They're known to devour worms, larvae, and small crustaceans with enthusiasm. It's not just about what's simple to catch; these choices are packed with the protein and nutrients catfish need to thrive.

You might be surprised to learn that catfish use their barbels, those whisker-like appendages, to search out these tasty morsels in murky waters. This method allows them to detect their prey efficiently, ensuring they get a varied diet that supports their growth and health.

What Does Catfish Eat - Shrimps

Fish eggs

Catfish enthusiastically adding fish eggs to their diverse menu, which provides them with vital nutrients.

When you think about their diet, you might not immediately regard fish eggs as a primary component, but it's a noteworthy one. These eggs offer a high-protein snack that's easy for catfish to digest, making them an excellent food source.

Whether scavenging for eggs laid by other fish or happening upon nests during their opportunistic hunts, catfish take full advantage of these nutritious orbs.

You'll find that in waters where fish spawn, catfish may change their location or behavior to feast on this bounty. It's a natural cycle that benefits them, especially during spawning seasons when fish eggs are more abundant. This aspect of their diet underscores the adaptability and varied tastes catfish have developed to thrive in diverse aquatic environments.

What Does Catfish Eat - Fish-Egg


Surprisingly, catfish also include a variety of fruits in their diet, showcasing their unexpected taste for sweet, natural treats.

You might not think of these bottom-dwellers as fruit connoisseurs, but they're more versatile eaters than you'd imagine.

In their natural habitats, especially in warmer climates, catfish often consume fallen fruits directly from the water's surface or the bottom. They're particularly fond of berries, melons, and other soft fruits that easily disintegrate in water.

This part of their diet is important, providing essential vitamins and minerals not found in their more typical carnivorous fare.

What Does Catfish Eat - Fruits

Carrion (dead animals)

Beyond their sweet cravings, catfish also show a less finicky side by devouring carrion they come across in their aquatic environments.

They're opportunistic feeders, meaning if there's a dead fish or any other animal that's sunk to the bottom of their habitat, they'll gladly make a meal of it.

This scavenging behavior plays a crucial role in keeping their ecosystems clean by recycling dead matter. You might find it a bit grim, but for catfish, it's just another day's meal. They're nature's cleanup crew, ensuring nothing goes to waste. So, while it might not be the most glamorous aspect of their diet, it's certainly essential.

What Does Catfish Eat - Carrion

What Does Different Type of Catfish Eat in the Wild?

All of the above shows a usual meal consumed by catfish in nature. Of course, there are some exemptions.

Not all catfish will eat that but it clearly shows that they will feed on anything available at a given moment. Different catfish have varying preferences for what they eat.

Based on the species, the food consumed by adult catfish differs as described below.

Channel catfish

Chanel catfish will eat the following: fish, clams, snails, insects, small mammals, crustaceans, small birds, vegetation.

When they are young, they mostly feed on insects like dragonflywater beetles and fly larvae. After reaching adulthood, they start to feed on small fish, seeds, aquatic plants, algae, crawfish and snails.

Flathead catfish

Flathead catfish consume a variety of foods depending on availability.

Their diet primarily consists of smaller fish such as minnows and crayfish. They will also eat a variety of aquatic insects and crustaceans that they find in their environment.

One of the unique catfish eating habits is their preference for live prey, as they are known to be active nocturnal predators that hunt by scent and touch.

Blue catfish

Blue catfish are known to have a diverse diet, feeding on various fish species and large invertebrates found in their body of water habitat.

Their opportunistic feeding behavior allows them to consume a wide range of prey items, making them successful predators in their environment.

These catfish are known for their ability to consume large meals, often preying on smaller fish and crustaceans. Their feeding habits play a crucial role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem within their aquatic environment.

North African catfish

North African catfish feeds on freshwaterwater organisms like planktons, shrimp, and various fish, and with land animals like birds and snails. Among other food sources it can consume different dead animals, and plants and plant material like seeds, nuts, grain and fruit.

Most of the whiskered swimmers change their food preference as they grow. Once they reach a certain size, young catfish begin to feed mostly on small (young) fish, which becomes their primary diet.

Bullhead Catfish

Species of catfish known as Bullhead catfish are omnivores. They primarily feed on insects, small fish, crustaceans, and various types of plant material. Their diet also includes algae, detritus, and other bottom-dwelling organisms.

Their scavenging behavior allows them to consume a wide range of food sources, making them adaptable to different environments and ensuring they can find food to sustain themselves.

What Does Catfish Eat - Bullhead

Farmed Catfish vs. Wild Catfish: Differences in Diet

Catfish living in captivity are fed by humans, while the ones in the wild have to find food sources by themselves.

There are certain similarities, but also differences, in diets of catfish.

What Does Farm-Raised Catfish Eat?

Farm-raised catfish typically consume pellets in captivity, with a protein content of around 30 percent.

The type of pellet used varies based on water temperatures: floating pellets above 18 degrees Celsius, slow-sinking between 15 and 18 degrees, and sinking below 15 degrees. During winter when water is cold, catfish remain inactive in deeper, warmer waters, necessitating sinking pellets.

In addition to pellets, farm-raised catfish may also be fed live fish, worms, or frozen mixtures containing shrimp, fish, and plants.

Feeding should be timed when water oxygen levels are rising, avoiding low-oxygen periods like the hottest parts of the day. This feeding pattern mirrors that of wild catfish, ensuring proper digestion and growth.

What does catfish eat - pellets

What Does Wild Catfish Eat?

Among similarities, catfish in the wild are also affected by oxygen levels in the water, and they tend to avoid feeding during times when oxygen level is low.

However, rivers have constant fresh water supply and they are less prone to high oxygen level fluctuations, at least the ones large enough with a moderate or strong flow.

Catfish living in those waters will eat anytime. Except that, wild catfish can also consume pellets. They are very attracted to them in a form of prebaiting, which is frequently practiced by anglers.

Rivers, unlike lakes, are changing temperature more slowly than shallow and small ponds. They warm up later in spring but cool down later in fall. That means that wild catfish start feeding a bit later after winter than their relatives in ponds. They also depend of prey availability and their behaviour is connected.

In abundance of natural food, wild catfish can choose their food and most of them prefers other fish. So, if feeding wild catfish, especially before spawn, pellets should have higher protein content, up to 40%.

While pond catfish can gain weight if fed during winter, those living in rivers will lose it. And how much will they lose depends of a temperature. Normally, they start feeding less frequently when water temperature drops under 20 degrees Celsius.

When it cools down even more, and water temperatures are under 10 degrees Celsius, they more or less stop eating completely. And they prey becomes unavailable too.

Winter weight loss for a catfish living in the wild is up to 9% of their own body mass. Again, the exact values depend of a species and location.

What Does Catfish Eat - River

Understanding Nutritional Needs to Stay Catfish Fit for Life

Catfish are a popular fish for both recreational and commercial anglers, and it is important to understand the nutritional requirements for catfish in order to ensure healthy and robust growth.

Catfish are omnivorous, meaning they can eat both animal and plant material. As a result, they require a balanced diet containing proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

  • Proteins: Catfish require a diet rich in proteins, as they are essential for growth and health. Fish meal, squid meal, and shrimp meal are all excellent sources of protein for catfish and should be included in their diet.

  • Carbohydrates: Catfish require carbohydrates for energy and to maintain healthy fish weight. Grain-based feed, such as corn, wheat, and barley, are all excellent sources of carbohydrates for catfish.

  • Fats: Fats are another important component of catfish nutrition. They also help to provide energy, keep the fish healthy, and improve their flavor. Fish oil, soybean oil, and corn oil are all good sources of fats for catfish.

  • Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamins and minerals are essential for catfish health and growth. Vitamins A, D, and E are especially important for catfish, and should be supplemented in their diet. Minerals such as calcium and phosphorus are also important, as they help to keep the fish's bones and teeth strong.

Catfish can also benefit from a variety of other items, such as insects, worms, and vegetation.

It is important to remember that catfish are opportunistic feeders, so it is best to offer a variety of foods in order to ensure that the fish are receiving a balanced diet.

Overall, providing catfish with a balanced diet that includes proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals is key to ensuring their healthy growth and development. With proper nutrition, catfish can grow to be healthy and strong.

What does catfish eat - live bait - gold fish


Now you know, catfish aren't selective eaters at all.

They're true omnivores with a wide range of tastes, munching on algae, insects, and even small fish. Whether it's foraging on the bottom or exploring in murky waters, catfish adapt their diet based on what's available.

So, next time you're by a river or lake, remember, beneath those waters, catfish are enjoying a diverse buffet that keeps them thriving in their aquatic homes.

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I am Siniša Pintar (friends call me Sina), the guy behind Slo-fishing.si and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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