Catfish can survive in the mud because their skin is part of their respiratory system, they breathe using a process called cutaneous respiration. This means that providing that they maintain the protective mucus or slime around their bodies and stay in wet mud, they will be perfectly fine. However, if the mud starts to dry, and the protective mucus is removed from their bodies, they will only have a matter of hours to live.
When they are in wet mud, their metabolism slows down and they effectively go into a dormant state. This means they can survive incredibly long periods of time without water providing that the mud is wet. Their skin is permeable to oxygen, allowing them to breathe comfortably in these environments. Catfish also possess a respiratory system that uses organs that are similar to lungs. This allows them to stay alive for several hours outside of the water and mud. However, it isn’t a long-term solution because even with this ability, the catfish would more than likely have less than 24 hours to find an appropriate environment before it would die.
Why Catfish Like The Mud
There are a number of reasons why catfish are often found in the mud, but one of the most common is the dry seasons. When droughts occur and the water dries up, catfish need to find someplace they can effectively wait until the water levels rise again. During droughts, there is no better place for them to stay than wet mud! Mud also protects them from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays while also keeping them cool. The catfish’s skin is really what makes it so suited to wet environments.
Mud also is an excellent form of camouflage for catfish. The skin is usually grey and brown, therefore making them blend in incredibly well with the mud which keeps them hidden from any potential predators, which often can be other larger catfish. Female catfish will also burrow into the mud when she’s spawning so that they’re protected from the current in fast-flowing rivers.
However, all of this can only be applied if the mud is wet and has a sludge-like consistency. Once the mud dries up it will remove the protective mucus from the catfish’s body and it will only have a matter of hours to live.
How Catfish Breathe Outside Of The Water
Catfish can actually breathe outside of the water using two different methods. Firstly, we have the method we described above, which is called, cutaneous respiration. This can only be used if the catfish is in wet mud. However, if the catfish is completely out of the water, in the open air, things become much more difficult. They can survive for short periods of time like this but it’s incomparable to how they can live in wet mud.
When the catfish is out of the water or mud, it can breathe using a suprabranchial organ. You can essentially look at this as a set of specialized auxiliary lungs. Catfish will use this organ to keep them alive outside of the water. Being one of few fish that possess this ability, catfish can survive outside of the water for longer than the majority of fish. If you’d like to learn about this process in more detail we’ve linked to an excellent study on Accessory Respiratory Organs in Fish.
This is why catfish fishermen don’t need to rush when unhooking and releasing catfish. They’ll be completely fine outside of the water for a few hours but it’s still good practice to return them to the water as quickly as possible.
How Do Catfish Move In Mud
Unlike water, mud is thick and viscous, making it difficult to move around in. However, catfish are among the slimiest freshwater fish. This mucus that they are encapsulated in protects them and makes them incredibly slippery. This combines with their long tapered bodies, allows catfish to move around well in thick mud. Of course, their movement is still limited and its incomparable to how they move in water, however, they don’t need to move as much.
When catfish are living in mud, they essentially go into a form of hibernation. Their appetite is massively reduced, they move very little, and they effectively become dormant. Their lack of movement and activity means that they don’t use much energy and therefore don’t consume much food. This is how catfish are able to survive such long periods of time in wet mud. When the water levels rise and it starts to get warmer, catfish become much more active. During the warmer months, they feed aggressively, especially during the night.
What Do Catfish Eat In Mud
Catfish are both scavengers and predators and they will basically eat anything and everything. As we mentioned earlier, they aren’t the most active feeders when they are dormant and catfish will typically be dormant if they are living in mud. This means they won’t really eat much while they are residing in mud but there is still some food available to them. They are often insects and small crustaceans they can feed on while occupying the mud and even parts of dead fish.
Catfish have iron stomachs and if they have an appetite they will eat anything they can swallow. There have been reports of some large catfish like the Wels and Piriaba, consuming humans. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, I guess it doesn’t hurt to also know that catfish are also cannibals.
How To Catch Catfish In Mud?
When catfish are actively feeding during the warmer months, the best and most fun way to catch them is with a rod and reel. However, when catfish are burrowed in the mud, a rod and reel become redundant. In order to catch catfish from the mud, you’ll have to go after them by hand.
In America, particularly in the south, a lot of fisherman catch catfish using a technique called noodling. The involves jumping into the lakes and foraging around in the catfish burrows with your bare hands. Once you’ve found a catfish hole, you have to grab the catfish by the mouth and tie a rope through its gills to stop it from escaping. These breeds of catfish don’t have teeth as such, but they do have a set of rasping pads that can really damage your skin. So if you do decide to try noodling for catfish, it’s definitely advisable to wear a pair of protective gloves. Here’s a link to a pair of Protective Gloves
Catfish are a hardy species that have evolved to survive in harsh conditions. It’s incredulous, that a fish can survive for such long periods of time in mud but catfish are purpose-built to survive. They are both apex predators and scavengers and they will eat almost anything. They have very few natural predators and they are cannibals. Despite their, frankly, ugly looks, catfish are nothing short of extraordinary.