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The catfish family (Ictaluridae) is large; the total number of recognized genera being more than one hundred and the number of species nearly one thousand. Most species inhabit the rivers of warmer countries particularly South America and Africa. The total number of species known from North and Middle America is 108 (Jordan and Evermann 1969). In the United States and Canada we have 37 species, but only about a half dozen of these are of sport or commercial importance.
The genus Ictalurus is confined to the fresh waters of North America and contains 11 known species; six of these are important food fishes (Bailey et al. 1970). One additional member of family Ictaluridae that also is widely distributed throughout North America but of a different genus is the flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris). This species is a very important food and game fish.
The channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is native to the eastern half of the United States. It ranged from Montana through southern Manitoba and Quebec to the western side of the Appalachians then south from Florida to Mexico (Carlander 1969). This species has been introduced successfully throughout most of the remainder of the country.
The channel catfish is slender with a deeply forked tail and flap-like adipose fin. The upper jaw projects beyond the lower jaw and the tooth pad on the upper jaw is without backward extensions. This species is similar in appearance to the blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) but differs in having dark spots laterally and in having the outer margin of the anal fin rounded outward rather than straight. The anal fin has fewer rays (24 to 29) than a blue catfish's anal fin. The fish is scaleless and its body configuration presents a very streamlined appearance. In life the fishes' back and sides are olive-brown or slate-blue, with dark spots randomly scattered throughout. The belly is silverywhite; fins are yellowish or dusky with a narrow black border. Males, during the breeding season, become very dark, with a swollen knobby head. The lips become thickened and fleshy (Pflieger 1975). Exceptional adults will reach nearly a meter in length and weigh up to nearly 20 kg. Nebraska's state record fish weighed nearly 17 kg.