The Amazing Senses of Catfish

Some may think of Catfish as a savory snack, others as a challenge to catch, or yet even as an interesting TV show; however these bottom feeders are actually fascinating creatures. They reside in freshwater, and have inhabited all continents at one point or another. They can live anywhere from lakes, ponds, rivers, channels, coral reefs, or even underground. Their scientific name is Siluriform and they are named Catfish based on the long barbels that resemble whiskers. They are solitary creatures and eat things like frogs, snakes, aquatic plants, or even other fish. Catfish also have insane mastery of their senses that may seem bizarre. They have senses of hearing, smell, taste, and touch, but on top of that, they have a sense of electroreceptivity, and pressure sensitivity.

Catfish possess terrific tasting abilities. They have 100,000 taste buds, and some subspecies are known to have as many as 180,000. This is an insanely high amount compared to Humans 9000 taste buds. That’s more than 11 times the amount of taste buds in humans. But the catfish taste buds are not limited to their mouths. They are covered all over in taste buds, leading for them to taste literally everything they touch. It makes me wonder why they swim in the mud.

Alongside their powerful sense of taste, Catfish have an excellent sense of smell. Their abilities are on par with bloodhounds, at around 800 times that of a normal human. They use this superpower outside of hunting for food, they also use it to recognize other catfish and establish a social hierarchy. They recognize the scent of fellow Catfish in their location and understand where they lay on the social hierarchy as a result.

Catfishes don’t have scales, which helps increase their incredible sense of touch. Their eight whiskers, officially known as barbels enable it to touch (as well as taste) everything out in front of it. Their combined sense of touch and hearing is amplified in the water because vibrations travel extremely well under water. They can hear extremely low frequency sounds thanks to tiny pores running across the fish that can pick up on the slightest change in water displacement. Through this they can detect the movements of fish surrounding them, or the fisherman walking outside of the pond. This ability can be so powerful that they can pick up on seismic activity to the point of detecting earthquakes days in advance.

Some catfish are known to have underdeveloped eyes, but most subspecies are able to see very well in the murky depths of water. They have a tapetum lucidum, which is a layer of tissue at the back of their eyes that helps them see well in lowlight conditions.

Catfish can also sense the electrical discharges found in the nervous systems of other animals. Despite having a limited range, they use it to notice animals that may be well camouflaged or hidden in mud.

Catfish are clearly fascinating creatures, with their honed senses, making them excellent hunters, and much more than what we may think of as bottom feeding dumb old fishes. They have proven to be intriguing and ferocious beasts, and welcome relatives on the tree of life.

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About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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