A fish’s scales act as a protective layer over its bodies, shielding them from parasitic infections and physical injuries caused by predators and other external elements. Scales also help a fish swim by reducing drag and water resistance. After reading all of this, you’re probably thinking with all these benefits of scales; all fish must have scales. Which, leads us to the big question of, “Do catfish have scales?”

Do Catfish Have Scales?

The answer to this question is: no, catfish do not have scales. Catfish are amongst the numerous fish species, like sharks, sturgeons, paddlefish, and lampreys, that have evolved without scales

The Many Layers of a Catfish

Instead of scales, catfish are naked with leather-like skin and a slimy outer layer. This mucous-covering over their skin is what makes them slippery and hard to handle when you’re trying to unhook them. 

Additionally, this slimy outer layer of a catfish’s skin helps them regulate necessary bodily functions, with some catfish species having the ability to breathe through their skin. Scientists have even done studies showing a catfish’s slime may even have the ability to heal wounds. Scientists believe their slime has a high concentration of molecules that can thicken the blood and stop them from bleeding. Also, other benefits of catfish having this gel-like layer are: 

  • It protects them from parasites 
  • It protects them from contracting diseases
  • It makes them more agile underwater 

This leather-like, slimy skin is what you’ll see on the most common freshwater catfish species such as bullhead, channel, blue, and flathead catfish.

However, another family of catfish species, the Callichthyidae, do have an armor-like outer layer with two rows of bony plates across their bodies.

Two armored catfish and a pirapitinga inside of an aquarium.

Image credits: Photo by Imajicka1

How Do Catfish Protect Themselves?

Despite not having scales, catfish have a unique defense mechanism against predators. Catfish have three sharp, bony spines located on the edges of their dorsal and pectoral fins. They lock out these spines whenever they feel threatened, making it harder for predator fish to swallow them.

So, make sure to handle catfish correctly, or you might get pricked by one!

Does a Catfish’s Leathery Skin Make It Harder To Clean?

Since a catfish’s skin is leathery and rugged, it is challenging for anglers to cut into it when filleting them. For this reason, many anglers opt-in to use an electric fillet knife for cleaning catfish. Electric fillet knives are great because you can effortlessly cut through a catfish’s tough skin. However, some anglers don’t like electric fillet knives because they can be a lot to maintain. 

Therefore, if using an electric fillet knife isn’t for you, don’t worry; you will still be able to cut through a catfish’s skin with a non-electric fillet knife. Just make sure to sharpen your fillet knife before you go out catfishing, so you don’t have to work as hard to clean your catfish. I would even recommend sharpening in between cleaning larger amounts of catfish since their rough skin may dull out your blade. 

Sharpen Your Fillet Knives! 

In short, unlike other game fish like bass, crappie, and trout, a catfish does not have any scales; however, that doesn’t make them any more susceptible to the elements. Even though they don’t have scales, their skin is as tough as leather, making it hard to cut into when you’re cleaning it. If you would like to make filleting your catfish easier, consider picking up a nifty electric fillet knife or even a high-quality non-electric fillet knife

What interesting fact about a catfish’s skin did you not know before reading this article? Let us know by leaving a comment below. Did this article give you a better understanding of a catfish’s anatomy? If so, consider sharing this article. 

As always, stay safe, have fun, and fish on!