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Native of the Week: Flathead Catfish


Species: Flathead catfish

Scientific name: Pylodictis olivaris

Nicknames: Yellow cat, mud cat, shovelhead cat

Claim to fame: Because of their large size and meatiness, flathead catfish are popular table fare for many anglers in the Ozarks and elsewhere around the state. Flathead catfish are among the largest fish that are commonly caught by anglers who set trotlines and juglines on large area streams and in the still, deep coves and back-water sloughs of reservoirs. They can also be caught by rod-and-reel methods.

Species status: Flathead catfish are found throughout Missouri.

First discovered: The first scientific description of the flathead catfish was written by the famed naturalist Constantine Rafinesque in 1818.

Family matters: Flathead catfish belong to the fish family Ictaluridae, a group commonly referred to as the bullhead catfishes. This family includes 39 species, 15 of which occur in Missouri.

Length: 15 to 45 inches long

Diet: Small flatheads feed almost entirely on immature aquatic insects, larger flatheads subsist primarily on fish and crayfish.

Weight: The average weight of a flathead is between 1 and 45 pounds, but flatheads weighing more than 90 pounds have also been caught on occasion.

Distinguishing characteristics: The back and sides of the flathead catfish are pale yellow to light brown. Often, this coloring is mottled with dark brown or black. The belly is pale yellow or cream white. Of course, one of the most obvious features of the flathead cat is its “whiskers” – which are known as barbels. As with other species of catfish, barbels help flatheads locate food. All of North America’s catfish species have many external taste buds that are most abundant on their barbels.

Life span: There are records of flathead catfish living more than 20 years.

Habitat: The flathead catfish is a solitary species. A single unit of cover such as a drift pile, will usually yield only one, two or three adults. Each individual normally has a favorite resting place where it can be counted on to be each day unless it is disturbed. Adults move at night from deeper water or cover to riffles and the shallows of pools to feed.

Life cycle: In this part of the country, flathead catfish spawn in late June and July. A saucer-shaped depression is excavated in a natural cavity or near a large, submerged object by one or both parent fish. The eggs are laid in a compact, golden-yellow mass that may contain 100,000 eggs or more. The parent fish agitates the eggs continuously by fin movements during egg development to provide oxygen and flush away silt. After the young have hatched and begun to swim, they remain for several days in a compact school near the nest, but soon disperse and take up a solitary life.


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