An elongated, ugly fish, the catfish tribe has two widely spaced dorsal fins and a long anal fin and a broad powerful tail. All American catfish have two short barbules on top of the snout, two long barbules that extend back from the top of the snout, two long barbules that extend back from the corner of the jaws and four slender barbules projecting from the underside of the jaw. Some of the species of the American catfish are prized for the quality of their white flesh. Many fish farms now raise both the channel catfish and the white catfish for the expanding market. While the catfish are young they eat insects, water snails and tiny fish. When they are older they eat live and dead fish or small animals. The larger species also take ducklings and the young of other small waterbirds. In deep water catfish feed during the day, while shallow water fish show nocturnal tendencies.
The catfish lay eggs in spring, usually around submerged weeds. The channel catfish, however, migrates from lakes and large rivers to spawn in small sidestreams.
The coloration of the catfish depends on the type of catfish. The blue catfish has a blue back, paler flanks and silver-white body. The channel catfish is similar but its body color is overlaid with dark spots and blotches. The flathead catfish is a mottled brown color. The white catfish is silvery white.