How Long Do Catfish Live And What Do Catfish Eat?

Catfish is one of the most abundant species in America. You can find them in most freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams throughout the country. They might not look pretty, but they grow huge and make a delicious fish fry.
What do catfish eat? Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing to worry about their habits because they are omnivores. They usually feed on small minnows, crayfish, freshwater shrimps, and worms. Catfish also have a long life expectancy while being quite resilient without water. So, how long do catfish live in and out of water? So, to answer basic information about catfish, we will learn more about the food and longevity of some popular catfish species through this article.

How Long Do Catfish Live?

The lifespan varies across the species. Catfish can live from 5 to 20 years, though Wels catfish can reach an average lifespan of 30 years. Mekong giant catfish are known for the longest life expectancy of up to 60 years. 

The food resources and population density also have a significant impact on how long a catfish can live.

Also, catfish can survive a few hours when taken out of the water as long as their skins stay moist. Some even manage to last up to 18 hours without water. 

Quick facts about catfish

Catfish (Siluriformes) is a diverse group of gray-finned fish with barbels resembling whiskers around the mouth. Most catfish are found in freshwater, but there are two saltwater species. Over half of catfish are native to America, of which blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish are the primary species. 

Catfish are bottom dwellers, hard-fight, and taste great on the dinner table. In addition, their body, with more than 100,000 taste buds, is sensitive to food particles. Thus, catfish are willing biters and easy to hook from a boat or bank with minimal equipment. 

Catfish lifespan by species

Flathead catfish: As the name suggests, the flat head is a distinctive feature of this species. Flathead catfish are yellow; thus, many people also call them yellow cats. The typical life expectancy of flathead catfish is between 5 and 22 years old. However, some can live up to 28 years old.

Catfish lifespan by species

Blue catfish: Blue catfish are large with smooth blue skin and whisker-like barbels around their mouths. They are the largest species in North America and can grow to 65 inches in length. Blue catfish can live up to 9 to 10 years, though some can reach an impressive lifespan of 25 years.

Channel catfish: Channel catfish are smaller than their flathead and blue cousins. This species features an olive-brown color skin with a deeply forked tail. Some also have shades of grey and blue on the sides. They are the most common type of freshwater catfish.

Channel catfish

Channel catfish’s lifespan averages 14 years old. The oldest reported age of channel catfish is 24 years old.

Wels catfish: The only species native to Europe, Wels catfish can grow to 60 inches long. Their colors vary depending on the environment: the skin changes to greenish-brown in murky water and black in clear water. The lifespan of a wild Wels catfish is from 15 to 30 years, though several cases have seen aging up to 80 years.

Wels catfish

Mekong giant catfish: This species belongs to the shark catfish family and is one of the largest known freshwater fish. They are white and grey and are distinguished from other large species by the near-total absence of barbels.

This species is known for being long-lived and for the fastest growth rates among catfish species and can grow to 440 pounds in only 6 years. Some can live up to 60 years.

Mekong giant catfish

How Long Do Catfish Live Out Of Water?

The amount of time that catfish can live when removed out of water depends on the weather conditions. Yet, these species are known for their remarkable ability to survive out of water. 

The average age expectancy for a catfish without water is a few hours, which is an impressive amount of time. To be specific, if catfish are kept wet, they can live up to 3 hours without water. As long as there’s water on the grills, some can stay alive for 15-18 hours, separated from the water. 

As its name suggests, walking catfish can use their spiny front fins to move in the wetlands and survive 18 hours without water. Technically, walking catfish can breathe out of the water thanks to its suprabranchial organ. It gives walking catfish the ability to travel short distances on land to get to the water source.

What Catfish Eat?

How Catfish Eat

Do you ever wonder whether catfish wait for food to come to them or actively search for food? To answer this question, you may bear in mind that they are scavengers, which means they are consistently keeping a search out for the bait. They appear to lean toward new foods, but they will also eat dead creatures or available fish. Catfish use the barbels, which have both taste and smell, all over to look for prey and assist them in finding food in the dark, muddy water habitat.

A Complete List About What Catfish Eat

  • Algae
  • Aquatic Insects
  • Blue Crabs
  • Clams
  • Crayfish
  • Detritus
  • Frogs
  • Detritus
  • Phytoplankton
  • Shrimp
  • Sea Cucumbers
  • Seagrass
  • Snails

According to this list, some experienced anglers choose bait such as small fish and shrimp or nightcrawlers. Some prefer sliced baits for catfish; some choose to fish with chicken livers and hot dogs.

Blue Catfish

They identified the blue catfish as the giant catfish in North America, with the most prominent trophy blues weighing 100 pounds. As you might expect, their diet reflects their size. The blue catfish will consume almost anything, including crabs, crayfish, clams, mussels, and other small-to-medium-sized baitfish. However, if an occasion arises, they are not averse to consuming other blue catfish.

Blue catfish are opportunistic feeders, which means they may eat strange things that amaze the researchers. They have conducted some research and discovered a wide range of strange objects in the stomachs of blue catfish, including surgical gloves, metal, and even sewage, fall into this category.

Vegetation makes up a notably large proportion of a blue catfish’s diet, accounting for more than half. The blue catfish target larger fish as prey when those trophy blues get older and ampler. In many areas, blue catfish are frequently seen as the highest predators where they inhabit.

Flathead Catfish

The diet of flathead catfish is one of the most restricted of any catfish species. They only consume insects and crabs on some special occasions. Young flatheads have remarkably more variation than adults, including small fish; some of them can be named minnows, bluegills, tiny perch, and similar fish. In contrast, flatheads prefer shad and bass as they grow older. They mainly eat live fish after they reach maturity.

The flathead catfish can grow to a pretty bulky size. One of the most remarkable records was nearly 5 feet long and weighed 123 pounds. According to their giant size, flatheads often target rather hefty prey.

Channel Catfish

The channel Catfish is the most adaptable of the three kinds. Fish, snails, clams, mollusks, insects, and tiny invertebrates are their favorite foods, even small mammals if they can catch them. Some people have even witnessed channel Catfish plucking birds from the water’s surface. It makes little difference to channel catfish, as they don’t care whether their food is living or dead.

Channel Catfish will eat vegetation if no meat or living tissue is present. They eat a variety of aquatic vegetation and fruit and berries that fall into the water. Channel Catfish take almost anything as their food source.

Bullhead Catfish

Bullhead Catfish are scavengers that will devour almost anything on the bottom, live or dead. They will consume smaller prey than blue catfish or channel catfish since they are smaller. A bullhead catfish’s diet includes small insects, crayfish, and small fish.

Farmed Catfish

If you’re looking to go Catfishing, prepare for a different diet. The farm-raised catfish diet is complemented with a concentrated mixture of protein diets. To be specific, it is roughly 30% protein. The Catfish farmers also let them float in warm water and sink as the temperature drops, which keeps them at the appropriate depth for the catfish to eat. 

Catfish also have their food supplemented with a wide range of additional products that depend on the farm. Catfish farm owners often boil eggs to feed their catfish. Boil eggs serve as nutritious meals for any catfish and contain pure protein. They will even eat farm-raised fish such as shad or tilapia. Of course, because they are opportunistic, they will consume almost everything else they can find.

Do Young Catfish Eat Differently From Adult Catfish?

The diets of young and adult Catfish differ. In a study of channel Catfish conducted in Central Italy, researchers looked at the diets of the fish to see how they differed. Males and females appear to eat similarly, yet young and older Catfish diets showed some differences. The scientists found detritus, the substance that breaks down bits of dead plants and animals, and phytoplankton (microscopic single-celled plants) in the stomachs of the smaller catfish. On the contrary, openmouthed gudgeon, the little fish the size of your index finger, and red swamp crayfish were found in the stomachs of adult Catfish. This research points out that catfish can handle larger fish and crayfish as they get larger.

How Do Catfish Adapt To The Ecosystem?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the blue catfish is an invasive species. Their increasing numbers are the main reason for a food web imbalance in the Chesapeake Bay region since they consume many foods. They also upset the food chain by taking on and defeating other larger fish. Scientists have established a workgroup to address the problem and develop a plan to manage the blue catfish population in that area.


Catfish are abundant and exciting to catch with a long life expectancy. When taken out of the water, you can keep them for as long as a few hours, which is longer than many other fish species. Knowing the answer to “how long do catfish live without water” is also crucial if you practice catch and release. You want to return them unharmed to their natural environment.

Catfish differs in every single type and place. That’s also why catching them is so enjoyable, as anglers may have to find the appropriate diet that is most suitable for capturing that type of catfish in a specific location. Finding the best bait and approach must be a thrilling journey for all anglers.

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