Published on February 19, 2013 by Amy
Characteristics of the family: Family members can be separated by the simplest criteria into three major groups: the large catfishes that include channel catfish, flathead catfish and blue catfish, all of which often reach weights of over 20 pounds; the bullheads, including black, yellow and brown, which rarely exceed 4 pounds in weight; and the madtoms, represented by the tadpole madtom, slender madtom, stone cat and freckled madtom, which are the smallest of the catfishes. Catfishes are easily distinguished from the other fishes by their smooth scaleless bodies, eight elongated fleshy barbels or “whiskers” abouth their mouth, and the strong, sharp spines that are located at the insertion of the dorsal and pectoral fins. It is beived that the spines are adapted as defensive structures in the catfish family.
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Identifying traits of the species: Flathead catfish are typically pale yellow to light brown on the back and sides, and highly mottled with black and/or brown. The belly is usually pale yellow or cream colored. The head is broadly flattened, with a projecting lower jaw. The tail fin is only slightly notched, not deeply forked as is the case with blue and channel catfish. Young fish may be very dark, almost black in appearance
Type of habitat: The flathead catfish is found in rivers and lakes from the Mississippi Valley south into Mexico. Found near cover, in deeper, slower moving pools of rivers. Often congregate in swift water below dams to feed on live fish. Flatheads spawn in spring or early summer, building nests in caves, depressions under rocks or undercut banks.
Range: Common in most large impoundments and streams. The native range includes a broad area west of the Appalachian Mountains encompassing large rivers of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio basins. The range extends as far north as North Dakota, as far west as New Mexico, and south to the Gulf including eastern Mexico. Flathead catfish occur statewide in Texas. St.Croix below Taylors Falls, and the Minnesota River.
Food sources: Variety of aquatic animals, larger individuals eat mostly fish. Fingerlings feed on insect larvae, juveniles feed on small fish and crayfish.
Mating habits and reproduction: After spawning, the male drives the female from the nest -violently if necessary. The male guards the eggs and fans water over them until they hatch and may tend the swarm of young until they disperse.
Yearly activities: During the winter, flatheads seek deep waters, where boulders or logs provide refuge from current. There they remain through the winter, so torpid that they may be covered by a fine dusting of silt. The flathead catfish spawns in summer when the water reaches 72 to 75 degrees. It nests in cavities, such as hollow logs, root wads or log jams in quiet water.
Important predators: Humans
Relationship with man: They are considered a good sport and food fish and is commercially harvested in some areas. Considered by many to be the finest table fare available.