Often confused with the channel catfish, the blue catfish is a large, smooth-skinned fish with a slate blue body and whisker-like barbels around its mouth. It was introduced to the region in the 1970s, and is now considered an invasive species.
The blue catfish is a long fish with a flat anal fin and deeply forked tail. Its smooth skin lacks scales. It has a slade blue body with a silver-white belly. Four pairs of black, whisker-like barbels appear around its mouth. Adults usually grow to be less than two feet long, but can be as long as five feet and weigh more than 100 pounds.
Blue catfish live primarily in fresh waters, but have a high tolerance for different habitats and water conditions. They are bottom-dwellers that prefer large rivers with deep channels, swift currents and sandy bottoms. They seek cooler waters in summer and warmer waters in winter.
Blue catfish are native to the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio river basins. They are stocked as a recreational catch in almost 20 states. During the 1970s and 1980s, they were introduced to the James, Rappahannock and York rivers in Virginia. Populations have expanded into the Potomac River.
Blue catfish are opportunistic bottom-feeders that use their long barbels to search for food. Their varied diet includes plant matter, insects, crustaceans, worms and other fish, like menhaden, shad and river herring.
Adults have few natural predators.
Spawning occurs from late May through June, often in lower-salinity streams and smaller tributaries. Parents build nests in dark, protected areas, like under rocks or in hollow, submerged logs. Females produce 4,000 to 8,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight. Both parents care for eggs and young. Young often form schools after hatching. Blue catfish can live more than 20 years.