Walking Catfish: Clarias batrachus
Elongated, gray, and scaleless catfish-type body with a large mouth, sharp pectoral spines, and four pairs of barbels; light to dark gray in color, but albinos occur; noted for ability to breath air and make short overland movements by pulling themselves along with their pectoral fins much like an infantry-man scooting under barbed wire; early accounts that this fish would eliminate native fishes were erroneous, and it has not had major detrimental effects; species occasionally abundant and still considered undesirable.
Most commonly encountered in Everglades and associated canals, but also occurs throughout central and south Florida; first reported in 1967 in Broward County and later in Hillsborough County, now these two populations have joined; abundance has decreased since 1970. Native range southeast Asia.
Prefers shallow and highly vegetated water bodies; sometimes abundant in small deeper ponds without normal complement of native fishes. They sometimes dominate small Everglades pools during the dry season, but not necessarily to the exclusion of native fishes. They are much less abundant in large lakes and canals, and then usually only found in shallow vegetated areas; can live and even thrive in water with little to no oxygen since can breathe air; well-adapted to transient water bodies with muddy bottoms that partially dry up seasonally; occasionally found in road storm drainage systems from which they emerge during flooding events; habitat preferences tend to segregate this fish thereby reducing its overall effect on native species.
Spawning Habitats: Little known, but reports from India indicate spawn early in rainy season when build nests in submerged vegetation; adhesive eggs laid on vegetation, and guarded by male.
Feeding Habits: Opportunistic consuming a wide variety of food items including small fishes, aquatic insects, plant material, and detritus; also scavenges on dead fish, et al.
Age and Growth:
Fairly rapid with sizes up to about 12 inches; maximum size about 20 inches and three pounds.
Not commonly eaten in western societies, but prized in native range (possibly in part because they can be kept live in moist bags for transport); no bag or size limits.
Special Note: Possession and transportation of live walking catfish is illegal without special state and federal permits; can only be possessed dead, so anglers who want to try eating them should immediately put them on ice.
Walking catfish are a conditional species in Florida (68-5.002, Florida Administrative Code).
Image Credit: Diane Peebles