Catfish are remarkable creatures that inhabit freshwater environments across the globe, boasting diverse species and fascinating characteristics. Living in Florida and catching catfish from our doc on a regular basis has made me even more infatuated with learning about these fish. The lifespan of these whiskered wonders can vary between species and habitat but they have a number of secrets behind their remarkable endurance. Get ready to unlock the mysteries of catfish longevity and gain a deeper understanding of these captivating creatures.
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How Long Do Catfish Live?
The lifespan of catfish can vary across various species. In general, catfish can live about 15 to 20 years in the wild. Some live much longer however. For instance, the Mekong giant catfish, one of the largest freshwater fish species, can live up to 60 years.
Similarly, the Wels catfish, a popular European species, has been documented to live over 80 years in some cases. Factors such as water quality, habitat, diet, and predation can all influence the lifespan of catfish. Proper care and management practices can help maximize their longevity in captivity as well.
How Long Can Catfish Live Out of Water?
First lets highlight that Catfish have a very limited ability to survive out of water. So if the intent is to keep it alive, get it back in the water as quickly as possible.
Some catfish though can survive for hours after they’re taken out of the water so long as their skin stays moist. There are catfish recorded that have lived up to 18 hours without being in the water. These species are well-known for their impressive ability to survive even when taken out of the water and caught with catfish rods and catfish reels.
There are catfish species in the family Clariidae that can breathe even when they are not in water due to the supra-branchial organ of the fish. This organ allows the catfish to travel a short distance on land in order to get to the water.
Catfish, regardless of the species, have permeable skin that’s capable of absorbing oxygen. they’re definitely a special breed. During drought, catfish bury themselves in mud, absorbing oxygen through their skin. This allows them to remain alive for up to an entire year.
However, should the mud dry out, catfish will die. If you take catfish out of their natural habitat and place them on dry land, they won’t last an hour.
Are We Talking Fresh Water or Salt Water Catfish?
Another one of the most frequently asked questions of our readers pertaining to catfish is: are catfish exclusively freshwater fish?
Catfish (Siluriformes) belong to a very diverse group of fish with gray fins and barbels that resemble whiskers around their mouths.
Over half of all the species of catfish in the world are native to the US. This includes flathead catfish, channel catfish, and blue catfish.
The majority of catfish live in freshwater; however, there are a couple of species that live in saltwater.
Salt Water Catfish Include:
- Hardhead Catfish (Ariopsis felis): Found along the Atlantic coast of North America, hardhead catfish are known for their ability to tolerate a wide range of salinities, from freshwater to full-strength seawater. They are often caught by anglers in coastal areas.
- Gafftopsail Catfish (Bagre marinus): Also known as sailcats, gafftopsail catfish are another species that can adapt to saltwater. They are commonly found in estuaries and coastal waters of the Western Atlantic, from the Gulf of Mexico down to Brazil.
I’ve caught these species of salt cats in Florida and Alabama often, and they can generally be found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and through the Florida keys. If you are an angler looking to get started, you might check out my catfish bait recipes!
The Lifespan of Different Catfish Species
How long does a flathead catfish live? The typical lifespan of a flathead catfish is 5 to 22 years. But, there are records of some living up to the age of 28.
As its name suggests, a flathead catfish has a flat head, the most distinctive feature of the species. It has yellow skin, which is why some anglers refer to it as a yellow cat.
How long do channel catfish live? This species has an average lifespan of 14 years. The oldest recorded channel catfish have reached 24 years old. Channel catfish are the most prized aquatic animals that are cultured commercially in the US.
There are several species of catfish that can be found in North American waters, but only seven are cultured or have the potential to be commercially produced. Although they’re freshwater species, they can still survive and even thrive in brackish waters.
Most farm-raised channel catfish are harvested at 18 months or when they reach 11/4 lbs. In production ponds, their growth rate is determined by the length of time the fish are held at various water temperatures, the water temperature, palatability, quantity, and quality of food fed, water quality, and frequency of feeding.
The only species of catfish native to Europe, the Wels catfish can become absolute giants. They are known to be as much as 15 feet long and up to 600 pounds!
Welsh catfish that are in murky water have greenish-brown skin while those raised in clear water will have much darker skin. Their lifespan is between 15 and 30 years, but there have been ones on record that have aged up to 80.
How long do catfish live, particularly blue catfish? Blue catfish are thought to live about 10 years on average with some reaching as high as 20 years. The blue catfish have large bodies and smooth blue skin.
Similar to other catfish species, they have whisker-like barbels all over their mouths. They’re the largest catfish in North America, growing up to 65 inches long and weigh close to 100 pounds.
Mekong Giant Catfish
Considered one of the biggest known freshwater fish, the Mekong giant catfish is white and gray, and it’s often distinguished from other species as it has little to no barbels. Did you see the one Jeremy Wade Caught on River Monsters? They are absolute giants.
The species has a fast growth rate and it can weigh up to 440 lbs. in the first 6 years of their life. There are Mekong giant catfish that reach the age of 60.
Summing it up
Catfish, inhabiting freshwater environments worldwide, captivate anglers and fish enthusiasts alike. While the average lifespan of catfish in the wild is 15 to 20 years, some species can live far beyond this age and even rival human lifespans. Some of the really big species like the Mekong giant catfish or Wels catfish can live for many decades.
Factors like water quality, habitat, and diet influence their longevity. Although catfish are not generally built for survival outside water, proper care and a quick return to their aquatic environment are crucial for their overall well-being.