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Named for their prominent barbels, which resemble a cat's whiskers, catfish range in size and behavior from the three largest species, the Mekong giant catfish from Southeast Asia, the wels catfish of Eurasia and the piraíba of South America, to detritivores (species that eat dead material on the bottom), and even to a tiny parasitic species commonly called the candiru, Vandellia cirrhosa.
There are armour-plated types and there are also naked types, neither having scales.
Walking catfish have also been introduced in the freshwaters of Florida, with the voracious catfish becoming a major alien pest there.
Flathead catfish, Pylodictis olivaris, is also a North American pest on Atlantic slope drainages.
As a defense, these spines may be locked into place so that they stick outwards, which can inflict severe wounds.Many catfish are nocturnal, Representatives of the genus Ictalurus have been introduced into European waters in the hope of obtaining a sporting and food resource.However, the European stock of American catfishes has not achieved the dimensions of these fish in their native waters, and have only increased the ecological pressure on native European fauna.Similar plates are found in large specimens of Lithodoras.These plates may be supported by vertebral processes, as in scoloplacids and in Sisor, but the processes never fuse to the plates or form any external armor.
Exceptions to this are the ariid catfishes, where the young retain yolk sacs late into juvenile stages, and many pimelodids, which may have elongated barbels and fin filaments or coloration patterns.