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Kindly accept my apologies for not writing a post yesterday. I am traveling the Great Lakes and Canada and will try to update when I am able. Today I am in Chicago. As I was looking out at Lake Michigan, I wondered whether there were any catfish native to the vast body of water– which is so large it might as well be considered a freshwater sea.
As it turns out the lake is home to channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatu), the quintessential North American siluriform. The channel catfish is a hardy omnivore which dwells in rivers, lakes, and ponds from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They eat smaller fish, arthropods, worms, seeds, and just about any other edible thing which will fit into their mouths. Channel catfish are nest breeders. If the female catfish is unable to find a promising crevasse in which to lay her eggs, the male will arrange logs and rocks into a nesting bed for her. He then guards the eggs until they hatch and even stays with the fry while they are very small (although if he is unduly disturbed he might eat the eggs and start all over again!).
While the channel catfish are hardly as flashy as some of the exotic catfish we have covered here, they are vastly successful organisms. They can also grow to be fairly large and specimens measuring up to 23 kg (50 pounds) have been caught (although such giants are quite old and rare). Although the catfish live naturally in Lake Michigan, they are also raised on farms throughout the American south (indeed they are the “Delecata” mentioned in this post about international catfish trade wars). Channel catfish have been introduced in parts of Europe, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where they are now causing havoc among native species.
But Channel catfish here in the Great lakes are facing their own invasive threats. Lake Michigan has been colonized by wave after wave of invasive animals. Some, like the omnipresent zebra mussels, are harmless to catfish (albeit infuriating to humans). Others like the sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) are not so benign for catfish. The jawless lampreys are vampires which attach to the bodies of catfish (and a wide variety of other native Great Lakes fish) and then rasp a hole in the hosts’ sides by means of sharpened tongue. Even more alarmingly, the leaping thriving all-devouring Asian carp has been making its way up Illinois’ rivers towards Lake Michigan. The state has been trying to prevent these dangerous fish from getting to the Lake by means of increasingly horrifying devices and stratagems such as underwater electric fences and mass poisonings. So far it has been working but there is still an underwater war raging for Lake Michigan.