catfish, common name applied to members of the fish families constituting the order Siluriformes, found in fresh and coastal waters. Catfish are named for the barbels (
whiskers) around their mouths and have scaleless skins, fleshy, rayless posterior fins, and sharp defensive spines in the shoulder and dorsal fins. They are able to use the swim bladder to produce sounds, and have a complex set of bones forming a sensitive hearing apparatus. Some species, such as the stone and tadpole catfishes and the madtom, can inflict stings by means of poison glands in the pectoral spines. Catfish are usually dull-colored, though the madtoms of E North American streams are brightly patterned. Members of most madtom species are no more than 5 in. (12.7 cm) long; some are less than 2 in. (5 cm) long. Danube catfish called wels, or sheatfish, reach a length of 13 ft (4 m) and a weight of 400 lb (180 kg), and the Mekong giant catfish can reach 10 ft (3 m) and 550 lb (250 kg). Catfish are omnivorous feeders and are valuable scavengers.
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