White Catfish Species Information

White Catfish - Ameiurus catus

White catfish look like bullheads with forked tails. Often confused with channel catfish because of the forked tail, the fin’s lobes are not as sharply pointed as are those of the channel catfish, nor does this fish grow nearly as large. While white catfish vary in color, the sides are generally blue-gray to blue-black with a pale silver-white underside. These colors can be much darker, particularly the head, lips, and barbels, in murky water and especially in males when breeding. White catfish have a stout body and small eyes like bullheads but have smaller mouths. The entire body is smooth and possesses a lustrous sheen.

Habits of the White Catfish

Learn about the habits of this catfish species.

Physical Description

The white catfish is often stocked in fee-fishing lakes and other private waters. It sometimes escapes into natural stream systems. Unlike our other bullheads, it has a moderately (though not deeply) forked tail fin.

Bullhead catfishes, as a group, are chubby catfish that rarely exceed 16 inches in length. The upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw. The tail of bullheads is not typically forked, though this species is an exception. The adipose fin (on the back, between the dorsal fin and tail) is a free lobe, widely separate from the tail fin. The head is blunt in profile, not wedged-shaped. 
The white catfish can be distinguished by the following: The rear margin of the tail fin is moderately forked (not merely notched, but also not deeply forked as in channel, blue, and flathead catfish). This chubby catfish has a short anal fin, the length of its base going more than 4 times into the standard length (measured from tip of snout to base of tail). The body lacks black spots and is often conspicuously two-colored, with a well-defined line of demarcation between the darker back and upper sides, and the white lower sides and belly. The anal fin rays number 22–24. 
The back and upper sides are blue black to blue gray; the underside of the head and body are white. The sides are sometimes mottled but without discrete black spots. The chin barbels are white; all barbels are similar in color to the adjacent body parts. The fins are dark.

Food Value

Life Span

6 - 8 years


Adult length: commonly 10–18 inches, with a maximum of about 24 inches; weight: commonly 0.5–3 pounds, with a maximum of about 8 pounds.


Ictaluridae (bullhead catfishes) in the order Siluriformes (catfishes)

White Catfish: Image Gallery

Habitat & Conservation

The white catfish is native to the Atlantic Coast from New York to Florida but has been widely introduced elsewhere. It is commonly stocked in fee-fishing lakes and other private waters. Perhaps the occasional specimens that have been collected from natural waters in Missouri are escapees from situations where they were stocked in lakes and ponds.

In its native range, the white catfish lives in ponds, reservoirs, and medium to large rivers. In Missouri, it was been collected from the Missouri River (in Boone County) and in the Big Creek arm of Truman Reservoir (Henry County). It has also been reported from the Mississippi River. There are probably no self-sustaining populations of the white catfish in Missouri, except possibly in artificial ponds. 

Home Range

At this time there is little to no information on home range in white catfish. 

Human Connections

This species has been intentionally stocked for sport and food. In some places where white catfish were stocked, it has led to established populations. In the state of California, where it was introduced as the “Schuylkill catfish,” it has been cited as a cause for the disappearance of the Sacramento perch (an endangered native sunfish) from a lake in northern California.

Similar species

  • The Channel Catfish, Ictalurus punctatus
  • The Headwater Catfish, I. lupus
  • The Yaqui Catfish, I. pricei
  • The Blue Catfish, I. furcatus, have a more deeply forked caudal fin. The Blue Catfish has a straight-edged anal fin, and most Channel, Headwater and Yaqui Catfishes have dark spots on a light body.