What Do Catfish Eat?

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Catfish are common fish species that are found in most parts of the world and there are over 3,000 subspecies.  They are called catfish because of their barbels that resemble cat whiskers.  This group of fish is members of the ray-finned fish.  They are easily identified by their whisker-like barbels and they do not have any scales.

Catfish are some of the toughest freshwater fish species in existence.  They can survive with very little oxygen and water.  In drought conditions, this fish species is even known to dig holes underneath rivers so they can hide out until the rainy season arrives again.  They also follow a remarkably flexible diet which is exactly what enables them to survive in tough conditions.

What Do Catfish Eat?

Most species of catfish are omnivorous.  They eat a huge variety of food and can also feed on the decayed matter.  Some species such as the Loricariidae catfish do however prefer foods like wood and algae above other types of food.  Here is a quick look at the most common foods this fish species enjoy eating:

Commercial fish food

Catfish can eat just about any commercial fish food you offer them.  For fry, high protein fish flakes are an ideal food source.  For larger catfish, other commercial fish foods such as pellets are also a perfect food to offer to keep them healthy.

Fish and fish eggs

Catfish love to hunt for other fish species.  They usually eat fish that are much smaller than they are but can also nibble at carcasses of larger fish to consume them.  Most catfish are also cannibalistic.  They will feed on smaller catfish and in catfish farms, cannibalism is a serious concern while raising larvae and fry.


Catfish will eat all sorts of insects that live or fall into the water.  Young catfish, mostly feed on aquatic insects such as dragonfly larvae, water beetles, fly larvae, mosquito larvae, and others.  You can use all sorts of insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, and earthworms as bait to catch catfish.


This large fish species will also feed on various crustaceans they find in their natural environment.  Animals such as crabs, decapods, lobsters, procambium, crawfish, cherax, water flies, water fleas, isopods, and many others are terrific foods to offer this fish species.

Aquatic plants

Catfish also eat plant matter.  They will feed on aquatic plants that grow in the water such as algae, lotus plants, water lettuce, and many others.  They may also feed on non-aquatic plants that happen to fall into the water such as grasses and soft leaves.  This fish species can also feed on aquatic plant matter called detritus.

Fruits and vegetables

Pet owners are often advised to offer a pet catfish some fruits and vegetables to ensure that they get enough nutrients.  You can offer them certain veggies raw or even cooked and cooled.  If you cannot find natural algae or detritus to feed your catfish, you can also supplement them by offering them fruits and veggies such as apples, bananas, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, and many other foods.


Some catfish species like the Candiru are parasitic.  This fish species will latch onto its prey and feed on the blood of its host.

Small animals

Catfish are also fond of catching and eating small animals such as mice, rats, lizards, small birds, pigeons, frogs, and many others.  They often catch these animals when they fall into the water or catfish may snatch animals like frogs or birds of the riverbank or from above the water.


Catfish love to eat carrion meat.  They will feed on just about any dead animal they find drifting about the water.  Catfish may even scavenge on the carcass of larger animals such as cows or deer and they are happy to consume meat that has become slightly decayed.

Diet Variation

Catfish are detritus feeders which mean they can eat almost any food they can find at the base of a tank or on the river floor.  They will also eat just about any type of fresh food they can find including fruits, veggies, and grains.  In harsh conditions, they will eat just about anything they can find.

How to Feed Catfish?

Catfish are very easy to feed because they feed on fresh food as well as detritus and carrion meat. To feed catfish, you can simply dunk some food in the tank.  This fish species can eat food from the water surface or they can feed off the tank floor and they are happy to eat almost anything they can find.

What Do Catfish Eat In the Wild?

In the wild, they eat what is available to them.  Some seasons, they may focus on larger foods such as small mammals, crustaceans, fish or plant matter.  In tough times, they can adapt to survive on detritus or carrion meat.

What Do Catfish Eat in Captivity?

In captivity, this fish species is often kept healthy by offering them a combination of commercial fish foods, an insect or two per week, some algae and detritus they find in the tank as well as other fruits and veggies you may introduce.

What Do Baby Catfish Eat?

New hatchling catfish are called larvae.  When the catfish start to mature a bit, they are called fry.  Young catfish mainly focus on smaller foods that are easily acquired such as algae, plant matter, detritus, crustaceans, fish larvae, and many others.  They also have cannibalistic tendencies and are happy to eat one another.

How Much Do Catfish Eat?

As a rule of thumb, a catfish needs to eat about 2.5% of its body weight per day.  This can however be tough to determine if you do not have a scale.  To see if your catfish is getting enough food, you can simply keep an eye on it.  Add its food to the tank and keep an eye on your catfish.  If it consumes all food within minutes then you should add more food.  If too much food is leftover, you can clear the tank and reduce the amount of food you offer daily.

How Often Do Catfish Eat?

Catfish are at their most active in summer.  The warmth of the water boosts their metabolism and they start to eat much more compared to other seasons.  Ideally, you should feed this fish species once per day, or seven times per week.  They can however survive relatively long without feeding any food at all as long as their bodies can enter a hibernated state if the water is scarce.

Do Catfish Bite?

This fish species is relatively harmless to humans.  They do not have teeth but do have a hard file like gums that can be used to grind down food.  They also have sharp talons on some of their fins that they can use to sting you.  These stings are however non-venomous and won’t do much harm.

Do Catfish Eat Frogs?

Catfish do enjoy eating frogs and tadpoles.  Frogs and tadpoles are a good food source since catfish can easily sneak up on these reptiles in the water to catch and eat them.  They will also feed on the carcasses of frogs that they might find floating about the river or dam.

Do Catfish Eat Other Fish?

Yes, catfish do eat any type of fish that are small enough to fit into their mouths.  They eat a variety of fish species including their own species.

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