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Do Catfish Have Teeth? Can A Catfish Bite You?

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Catfish are one of the most popular types of fish for both competitive anglers and recreational fishing. Getting a big catfish on the line promises lots of exciting reel play, and these fish can grow impressively large. They’re also one of the most popular fish for eating– a fresh-fried plate of crispy catfish is a regional specialty throughout the south and southeastern US.

When you’re fishing for catfish, whether that’s channel catfish, blue catfish, white catfish, or flathead catfish, it’s important to understand these fish and know a little bit about their anatomy.

Do Catfish Have Teeth?

Yes, catfish do have teeth! However, catfish teeth are not what you think of when you imagine an animal with teeth. Catfish have two types of teeth: Cardiform teeth in their mouths and pharyngeal teeth in their throats.

How Do Catfish Teeth Work?

One of the many features of catfish that make them adaptable is the way they eat. Fish don’t usually eat the way we think of mammals eating; they don’t have hands or paws, so they can’t lift something or hold it down to eat it.

Catfish tend to take prey by lunging and inhaling. They don’t take bites; instead, they swallow their food whole. When a catfish opens its mouth to take in water and prey, the tiny, dense cardiform teeth that line its jaws provide a rough, sandpapery texture. This ensures that whatever the catfish swallows can’t escape.

As the catfish swallows, the pharyngeal teeth present in the gill arches “walk” the prey back towards the fish’s stomach. The pharyngeal teeth crush and grind food into smaller, digestible pieces. Together, these two types of teeth make catfish highly efficient predators of small fish, crustaceans, and even amphibians like frogs and newts.

Can A Catfish Hurt Me?

A catfish’s cardiform teeth are not particularly sharp, nor are their jaws particularly strong. If you’re using a pole and lure to fish for catfish in the US, none of the species that live in North American waters have a size or a bite hard enough to damage a human.

You might feel some scratching if you press into the cardiform teeth while you are unhooking your fish in the boat, but it is unlikely that the bite of a catfish will draw blood.

However, if you’re noodling for catfish, you may have a different experience. “Noodling” refers to the practice of catching catfish with your bare hands… or sometimes even your feet. Noodlers look for catfish burrows in the waterbed and reach in, hoping that the catfish will latch on so that it can be pulled out.

When this happens, the suction and clamping from the catfish’s prey response can cause tiny, pinprick-like bite marks on your fingers, especially if the fish wriggles and tries to get away.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that a catfish bite will cause any serious damage, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. Now get out there and go fish up some tasty catfish!