Madtoms: These Catfishes Aren't Caught on a Hook and Line

By Renn Tumlison,

 Catfishes are easily identified by the elongated sensory appendages, or “whiskers,” located around the mouth. Also, catfishes possess a special fleshy fin in the middle of the back, close to the tail, called an adipose fin (trout also have such a fin, but they are not native to Arkansas).

 The most familiar catfishes are those sought by fishermen, but several species of catfishes are too small to be caught while fishing. Commonly called madtoms, they form a special group within the catfish family (Ictaluridae). These fishes are easily identified by examination of the adipose fin. In madtoms, the adipose fin is long and continuous with the tail fin, but it is separate from the tail fin in other catfishes (as in right photo). Madtoms generally are less than 100 mm (about four inches) in length.

Adipose of Bullhead
Brindled Madtom

 Many species of madtoms live in streams with rocky bottoms, where they move among stones foraging for aquatic insects. Some species have bars across the back that serve to break up their pattern and help them blend with the variously shaded rocks or organic debris such as leaves and sticks in which they live.

The Brindled madtom (Noturus miurus) is a common species named for the pattern of mottling and saddles on its back. It prefers the pools of streams with substrates of mud, sand, or small gravel – especially when leaves and twigs are present. This small catfish occurs is certain local creeks.

 In coloration, only minor differences distinguish the Mountain madtom (Noturus eleutherus) from the Brindled madtom. Its habitat, however, is larger, clear streams with good current, such as the Caddo River. It forages among larger stones and vegetation for aquatic insects.

Mountain Madtom
freckle and tadpole combined

Species without the patterned back usually are yellowish to brownish gray in overall coloration. The Freckled madtom (Noturus nocturnus) (top) is a common local species that is slender and prefers small streams with moderate current; whereas a very similar species called the Tadpole madtom (Noturus gyrinus) (bottom) usually is stockier and can be found even in reservoirs (including DeGray Lake) and backwaters.

The Ouachita madtom (Noturus lachneri) is worth mentioning because it is a species found exclusively in Arkansas and individuals have been caught in the Ouachita River drainage near Hot Springs.  

Ouachita Madtom
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