What is a walking catfish?

In Florida, importing or possessing walking catfish has been banned.

Clarias batrachus is a species of freshwater catfish, commonly known as the walking catfish. Like many other types of catfish, it has the ability to breathe air. He also has another unusual ability – the ability to “walk” on earth. Although originally native to parts of Southeast Asia, this catfish has been introduced to certain parts of the United States (US). Most environmental experts agree that it has the potential to cause damage to the local ecosystem and has been labeled an invasive species in many areas of the United States.

The average length of this fish is normally around 30.5 cm, but they have been known to grow up to 45.7 cm. The scaleless body is smooth and protected by thick mucus. White spots usually cover the brown or gray body, which is topped by a long dorsal fin. The pectoral spines of this catfish are very sharp and are often used to move across land.

Walking catfish have been known to take up residence in temporary waters such as pools created by floodwaters during the rainy season. When these pools dry up, they can travel great distances in search of water. As long as the skin remains moist, the walking catfish can survive out of water long enough to find a new home, at least temporarily. The name walking catfish is not technically correct. Instead of walking, this catfish moves along the ground like a snake or an eel. By flexing its sharp pectoral spines, this fish can pull its body along the ground.

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Because it is considered a tropical species, the walking catfish generally prefers warm waters. It can be found in shallow, still water, and because it is an air-breathing catfish, it tends to thrive in water with a low oxygen content. Muddy, stagnant water from temporary pools created by excessive rain and flooding is often the perfect environment for this species of fish.

Sometime during the 1960s, the walking catfish is believed to have been introduced to the United States from Thailand for use in aquariums. Shortly afterwards, some of these fish escaped, either by accident or because they were intentionally released. They are now established in many areas of Florida and Georgia, and possibly California and Nevada.

In many parts of the United States, especially Florida, importing or even owning these live fish has been banned. Because of their large appetite, the walking catfish can have a detrimental impact on ecosystems. They will eat many of the smaller fish and vegetation, leaving little food for the larger native fish. In some parts of Florida, walking catfish have been found in aquaculture ponds, feeding on fish stored there.

The walking catfish is omnivorous, eating a variety of foods. Common diet items include small fish, aquatic insects and vegetation. Always opportunistic, the walking catfish also tends to eat parts of dead fish.

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