Do Catfish Have Scales? Here is The Answer!

Do Catfish Have Scales

Catfish are one of the most popular fish species caught by anglers.

Numerous species of catfish exist, from tiny ones, to really huge ones.

Although they are so famous, people don’t know a lot about them. Some will ask you do catfish have teeth, how long can they live out of water, are they bottom feeders and even ...

Do catfish have scales? The answer is NO, catfish do not have scales. Some catfish species have scutes, but scutes are not the same thing as scales.

Here I am going to explain more about it, and tell you some basic information about fish scales, in the following chapters:



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Why do Fish Have Scales?

First of all, I have to define what fish scale is.

It is a small, hard, plate which grows from the fish skin, and covers it.

Majority of fish species are covered with scales.

Scales have certain benefits for the fish, and those are:

• CAMOUFLAGE – scales can have different color patterns and a shiny reflection, which enables the fish to hide from hungry predators, or to move closer to its prey undetected. As many catfish live in murky waters, camouflage is not their priority.

• PARASITE PROTECTION – same as almost all other living beings, fish can become infected with external parasites. Scales protect their skin and keep them safe from some parasites.

• HYDRODINAMIC ADVANTAGE – this benefit was not yet fully researched, and scientists argue about it, but skin covered with scales reduces friction between the fish and water and enables easier swimming.

• HYDRODINAMIC ADVANTAGE – this benefit was not yet fully researched, and scientists argue about it, but skin covered with scales reduces friction between the fish and water and enables easier swimming.

• DEFENSE MECHANISM – certain species have scales that are hard to penetrate and serve as protection from predators. It can be said that those scales are a form of body armor.

Scales vary in their size, shape and structure a lot. Fish can have entire body covered with multiple overlapping scales, or have just a little bit.

Big and strong scales, almost looking as an armor, are present in species such as boxfishes, while species like eels can have tiny, almost invisible ones.

There are different types of scales, and they can be cycloid (carp), ctenoid (perch), or plactoid (sharks and rays) ... 

Bony fish species are mostly covered with larger scales while cartilaginous are covered with plactoid ones. Plactoid scales are tiny, sometimes even microscopic size.

Do Catfish Have Scales - Yes or NO

Do Catfish Have Scales?

Do catfish have scales is a very common question, and as already mentioned, the answer is NO, catfish with scales do not exist.

Catfish skin is naked and exposed, at least in the majority of catfish species.

The thing is, there are so many catfish species around the world that even the most experienced angler can’t know them all. And the reason behind this is that only a few species are targeted by anglers and have that distinctive catfish look, as most of you imagine catfish.

Well known types of catfish are:

  • channel catfish
  • channel catfish
  • flathead catfish
  • flathead catfish
  • giant catfish
  • blue catfish

Some catfish species have mucus covered skin which is also a breathing organ. This mucus means slippery skin, and more sensitive one.

Other catfish species have leathery skin, or are covered with scutes ...

Scutes are very small bony plates. Exist in various shapes and sizes, similar to scales, and they are present in many species, even land animals.

Scutes and scales have the same purpose, however there is a biological difference. Scutes are formed in the lower layer of the skin.

The example of catfish with scutes is Callichthyidae, also known as armored catfish. As an angler, you probably won’t encounter these.

And if you are wondering why catfish don’t have scales, the answer has a complicate background, but I’ll try to explain it in a simple and comprehensive way.

Every living creature evolved in a way to have certain body characteristics which enable the creature to live, eat, breed and survive as a species. Some developed scales to do that, while others had no need to do so, because their body without scales was suitable to live, eat and breed in certain conditions they live in.

Catfish just had no need to “develop” scales.

Do Catfish Have Scales - Scaleless Skin

How Does Catfish Look Like?

Besides not having scales, these sometimes aggressive fishes are well known for some other body features.

The most prominent feature are definitely catfish barbels. These funny looking “whiskers”, or pairs of barbels, are actually food finders. Taste buds and olfactory sensors help them locate food without seeing it. Barbels are also sensitive to touch.

Catfish body appearance varies from one specie to another; however they have elongated strong bodies, wide mouth pointing downward, and their color varies from gray to brownish. Eyes are quite small compared to body and head dimensions, and their sense of sight is much less developed than sense of smell.

Inside their mouth you can find very small teeth that are unable to bite off pieces of prey. This is why catfish eat only what they can fit into their mouth.

Types of Fish Without Scales [Scaleless Fish]

There are a lot of scaleless fish, and those are the following:

• Jawless fish like lampreys and hagfishes
• Many eel species
• Many catfish species
• Mandarinfish
• Anglerfish

Some of these species, like anglerfish are covered with tubercles.

It is still a hard formed “growth” on their skin, but it is not the same as a scale.

Some other species, like pipefish, have external bony plates, which are there to protect them from predators, but again, these plates, biologically speaking, are not the same as scales.

Interesting fact about some fish species like swordfish, is that when they are young, they have scales. As they grow up, their scales disappear, and scaleless skin remains.

This probably occurs because they need additional protection as juveniles, but when they are fully grown, they can live without.

What is the Best Way to Remove Scales/Skin from Fish?

Eating fish is both healthy and tasty, however, first you must clean it.

Catfish without scales are not that complicated to prepare, but if the fish has scales, you must remove them because they are not good to eat.

This can be a messy process, but when you learn how to do it, it is not very hard.

There are special tools for that, but is you are not a chef, you most likely have none, so a regular knife will do.

Just follow these steps:

• Take a medium sized knife, not very sharp.
• Hold the fish for the tale.
• Scrape the fish from the tail towards the head, which is the opposite direction of scales.
• Do short and firm motions instead of pulling alongside the fish.
• Wash the fish.

And you are done!

Your favorite lunch is almost ready ...

If you are trying to clean a catfish, you maybe want to remove the skin.

Do Catfish Have Scales - Fillet

This is how to do so (step-by-step):

• Take a very sharp filleting knife.
• Cut around the head behind gills, about 3 millimeters deep.
• Make the same cut along the spine and go around the dorsal fin.
• Make the same cut alongside the belly.
• Make vertical cuts in along the tail, from up to bottom.
• You will now see that all the cuts intersect and it is time to remove the skin.
• Take pliers and grab the skin.
• Start pulling slowly but firmly from head to tail, not to destroy the meat.
• You will have to do that a few times if the skin breaks to remove all the skin from one side.
• Do the same on the other side.

And your catfish is ready!

Your favorite lunch is now really ready.


As an angler, you should know some basic information about fish species you are catching.

And it is good to know why some fish species are different than others.

Now you got the answer to do fish have scales question. Scales are there to protect the fish and to enable camouflage.

Those which don’t have it, adapted in some other way.

And one more thing in the end, if you practice catch and release of catfish, keep in mind that they will not sting or seriously bite you due to their lack of regular teeth, so be as gentle and respectful as you can.

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