Unlike cats and dogs, whose whiskers are made of hair, catfish have special whisker-like feelers made of skin. These sensitive feelers are called “barbels.”

Each barbel is loaded with tiny taste buds and special olfactory sensors to help the fish smell. Catfish tend to live in dark, murky waters where their vision isn’t very useful. Barbels help the fish search out food using their senses of touch and taste.

Though it may seem obvious how the catfish got its name, these barbel whiskers are not the only reason. When caught, catfish make a noise that sounds a bit like a cat purring.

But this may be where the similarities between catfish and cats end. Catfish can easily grow to become much larger than a cat — and sometimes even larger than a kid!

The world record catfish was recently caught in the Missouri River. This record-setting fish was nearly five feet long and weighed in at 130 pounds!

 

13 Join the Discussion

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    • Thanks for checking out this early Wonder of the Day®, “Wonder!” Back when Wonderopolis was new and some of these first Wonders were introduced, most of our GREAT Wonder Friends (the ones who leave us LOTS of comments on new Wonders of the Day) didn’t know about us yet. We’re trying to get people to visit these first AWESOME Wonders, too, so we’re glad YOU did! Thank you! :-)

    • Thanks for telling us about your favorite part of our catfish Wonder, Morgan! We love the detail of your comment– great job! We hope to Wonder with you soon, and we can’t wait to find out what the next Wonder will be! Have a SUPER weekend! :)

    • WOWZA, Camille, that’s so cool! Thanks for telling us about your dad’s catfish catch! We love how you compared the size of the catfish to yourself– it must have been a healthy catfish!

      Do you like to fish, Camille? :)

  1. I thought the video was cool because of their whiskers. Do they sting?
    I learned that they use their whiskers to see where they are going because the water is murky.

    • Hi Camille! We are so glad you enjoyed our catfish Wonder today- hooray for WONDERing! Catfish don’t sting, they use their whiskers to get from place to place and find food. We are glad you shared what you learned with us today, Camille! Great work! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do catfish have whiskers?
  • How did the catfish get its name?
  • Are all five senses important?

Wonder Gallery

Wonder #38 - Catfish Static ImageVimeo Video

Try It Out

Unlike humans, who rely heavily on their vision, catfish depend on their senses of taste and touch. Take a turn eating like the fishes — and rely on your taste buds to tell the story.

Here’s a fun family mealtime activity to try! Take turns wearing a blindfold while sampling bite-size pieces of fruits and veggies.

How many pieces can you correctly identify? Who in your family has the most accurate taste buds?  You may be surprised how different your dining experience is when you take away your sense of sight.

 

Still Wondering

Want to learn more? Here are a couple of resources you can explore.

 

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