Link #36: Catfish Have 100,000 Taste Buds!

Channel catfish

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Link #36: Catfish Have 100,000 Taste Buds!

Flathead Catfish
Flathead Catfish. Photo by USFWS cc2.0

Despite what you may think about your darling pet dog, a dog’s sense of taste is about six times less than that of humans. You would’ve learned this from our last post. However, in the big scheme of things, the human sense of taste isn’t anything great.

There are other organisms in this gloriously diverse world of ours whose sense of taste is much more developed than our own. In fact, if anything, we probably fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of taste. For instance, did you know that a catfish’s sense of taste is more than ten times stronger than us humans?

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How Many Taste Buds Do Catfish Have?

Channel catfish
Channel catfish with four pairs of barbels.

Fully grown catfish are known to have at least 100,000 taste buds. The fully grown individuals of some sub species of catfish can boast of more than 180,000 taste buds.

In contrast, if you don’t already know, humans have about 9,000 taste buds. You’re probably wondering that since catfish are so small how all these taste buds can fit in their mouths.

The answer is that these taste buds are not only located in their mouth but all over their body. Even though the taste buds are located all over their bodies, the highest concentration is found on their gill arches and barbells.

Gill arches are ridges that support their normal gills while the barbells are those thick whisker-like things that are located near their mouths. It’s almost like the catfish’s body is like one giant tongue because it boasts of taste buds all over.

Why Do Catfish Have Taste Buds On Their Body?

Catfish at the bottom of water body. Image Credit: United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

The fact that catfish have taste buds all over their body is not some freak of nature. Instead, like almost everything on the planet, there is a purpose to it.

Catfish, typically, live at the bottom of water bodies. They scour the bottom looking for food. The bottom of most water bodies tends to be muddy and murky because of all the churned mud. In addition, the bottoms of water bodies usually don’t get a lot of light.

Effectively, when it comes to hunting for food, catfish can’t really rely on their vision. Also, sound is subdued under water. The evolutionary answer for catfish was their sense of taste.

Catfish actually hunt their food through their sense of taste. Because they have so many taste buds all over their body, they can sense even the smallest of flavours and tastes in the water around them. Not surprisingly, they can navigate based on this sense too.

Researchers and scientists have discovered that if you take away a catfish’s sense of sight it can hunt solely with its sense of taste. In contrast, if you take away its sense of taste then it can’t hunt even with a fully functional sense of sight.

In practical terms, how strong is a catfish’s sense of taste? If you put one drop of cold drink in an Olympic size swimming pool, a catfish will be able to taste it. That’s how strong is their sense of taste.

Catfish are featured in the following books:
25 River Monsters
25 Nocturnal Animals

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