Most folks in these parts have had the pleasure of consuming catfish at some point in their lives. You might know that some catfish species found in our area can grow quite large – the Georgia state record blue catfish caught in 2010 weighed 80 lbs! What you might not know is that there are some catfish in our local creeks and rivers that don’t get much bigger than your pointer finger.
Recently, while checking on a water quality monitor in the Savannah River, one of our researchers found one of these small catfish, called “madtoms,” hiding in the small cage that guards the probes. This particular species is a speckled madtom (Noturus leptacanthus), named for the numerous spots covering its body. This species grows to a normal length of about two inches and typically lives two to three years.
The speckled madtom are found in both small creeks (they are present in Butler Creek at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park) and large rivers. They typically spend most of their day hiding in crevices around rocks or fallen trees and limbs and come out at night to feed on prey, which is mostly made up of small aquatic insect larvae. To protect themselves from predators, madtoms have bony, sharp spines that actually contain venom. This biologist can confirm that being stuck by a madtom spine is fairly painful, so be careful if you ever encounter one of these tiny catfish!