The scientific name of the walking catfish is Clarias batrachus. Clarias comes from the Greek word Chlaros, which means “vigorous.” As the name suggests, the fish can move outside the water on the land by wiggling its body back and forth.

Discover the fascinating world of the walking catfish, a unique species known for its remarkable land-walking abilities and intriguing mating behavior. Join us as we delve into its appearance, size, diet, and captivating lifecycle in the waters of Southeast Asia and beyond.


Appearance

The walking catfish has a long, eel-like body and scale-free skin with many white spots on its undersides. The head is flat and wide, and the body narrows to the tail in a way reminiscent of a thin tadpole. Although the gape is little, the mouth is wide open. The four pairs of barbells emerging from the massive mouth region are perhaps the most noticeable feature. These barbells function as opportunistic feeders, monitoring their surroundings and looking for prey.

The species has been recorded to reach a length of 61cm (24 inches) in its native region, while the longest specimens in South Florida seldom surpass 36cm (14 inches).

Their lifespan remains yet to be determined, but with some research on closely similar species, it has been estimated that they live 15 to 16 years in captivity.

Walking catfish is characterized by its long eel like body with brown-black scale less skin
Walking catfish is characterized by its long eel-like body with brown-black scale less skin


Habitat

They are endemic to Southeast Asia in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, where they may be found in big rivers and lakes.

They may be found in several environments, including lakes and rivers, but they are most recognized for their capacity to live in places where other fish cannot. This fish prefers warm, stagnant, frequently hypoxic waters such as dirty ponds, canals, ditches, swamps, and flooded plains. Except for brief excursions to the surface for gulps of atmospheric air, this species spends most of its life on or near the substrate.

Although walking catfish are primarily black, some albino specimens can be found too
Although walking catfish are primarily black, some albino specimens can be found too


Diet

The walking catfish is a benthic omnivore that diligently forages for its food. Active during the night, it uses its barbels to scour the bottom, vigorously sifting through debris and soft substrates. As a true generalist, this species has a diverse diet, which includes fish eggs, larvae, small fish, and a variety of invertebrates like annelids, shrimp, crustaceans, and insects.

Reproduction

These fish mate during the rainy season, which lasts from June to August. When two fish form a couple, they will seek out a cave or dense foliage where they may dig a hole and lay their eggs. One of the most remarkable aspects of the walking catfish is its mating behavior, which occurs in phases. During the initial stage, the male will swim in multiple loops around the female until his body is entirely wrapped around hers. As the mates get to know one other, the initial spawning will produce only a few eggs. The female will begin to produce additional eggs later on.

On average, this process takes around 20 hours and yields 8,000 eggs. Even after the eggs hatch, the mother and father guard the fry from predators during the first 24 hours. By the end of the third day, the sac fry should know how to swim and be functionally independent.

Threats

Walking catfish of all ages and sizes are preyed upon by several predators, including other fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Migration to different places and overfishing is another threat faced by catfish.

Walking catfish often fall prey to larger birds or other mammals
Walking catfish often fall prey to larger birds or other mammals


Facts About the Walking Catfish

  1. Walking catfish can walk on the land.
  2. They are invasive species in Florida.
  3. While brown-gray is the most common hue, produced walking catfishes can also be albino, mottled, or piebald.
  4. A walking catfish has 27,000 taste buds and uses its entire body to smell food.
  5. One catfish can lay up to 6,000 eggs a year per pound of body weight.


FAQs

Can walking catfish breathes air?

The walking catfish does not have lungs in the same way that other terrestrial animals do. They can breathe by specific respiratory systems that facilitate their capacity to breathe air on land.

How did walking catfish get to Florida?

Humans brought this non-native species to Florida in the 1960s, most likely due to escapes from aquaculture operations. The Florida environment suits the walking catfish, which loves the stagnant or slow-moving waters of ponds and canals widespread across most of peninsular Florida.

How long can a walking catfish stay on land?

As the name implies, the walking catfish can travel fairly effectively on land. It can travel up to 1.2 kilometers and live for up to 18 hours without water or as long as they remain moist.

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