How Do Catfish Brains Work?

The brain of catfish works like most other fish. It is important to remember that catfish are smart and intelligent, not to the level of humans, but they did adapt to the environment that they are in. The brain of catfish works like other animals. They have parts of the brain for memory and for making decisions concerning the fish. The intelligence of catfish is considered to be normal; they are not exceptionally smart for a vertebrate.

The catfish’s brain is normal in size when compared to their body. Their brain relative to body size is not too big or too small, so they are not the smartest animals but are not dumb either. This brain of catfish helps the fish in acquiring skills, storing in memory, retrieving, combining, comparing, and using in new contexts information and conceptual skills in accordance to being a fish.

The cerebellum of cartilaginous and bony fish is large and complex, so it is hard to understand all of it. However, it is known that the fish cerebellum does not contain discrete deep cerebellar nuclei. Instead, the primary targets of Purkinje cells are a distinct type of cell distributed across the cerebellar cortex in these fish.

According to a study, channel catfish are very good at retaining memory, as it can remember a voice for over five years after it first heard it when calling for food. These fish are smart enough to form a cognitive brain and realize what to avoid to escape danger. In armored catfish, it is common to notice foam nests made up of air bubbles glued together with mucus from the mouth for storing eggs. This type of learned behavior is a sign of brain activity in catfish.

It is hard to know exactly how the brain of the catfish works because their brains are not as big as humans, but it is just as complex. There is also an issue of dissecting the brain of a live catfish being unethical, but we do know that catfish have a brain, and it works very well for their species.


Social intelligence in catfish

One way to observe the brain of a catfish is to see how it behaves with other fish. These fish can remember the attributes of others, and even remember past behavior of a certain fish so that they are better prepared to deal with the fish again. This is when catfish avoid an aggressive fish because, in the past, this same fish has hurt them or caused an injury. Similarly, the fish could be less territorial towards a neighbor that seems strong and aggressive compared to a neighbor that is meek and small. Basically, these fish recognize when to act in what way.

For example, brown hoplo catfish have a habit of adhering all their eggs to a leaf and then carrying that leaf around in their mouth, like a tray, to keep them safe. Moreover, catfish can sometimes talk to themselves when sensing danger, but there is not much research on this topic.

Learning behavior in catfish

The fish can learn social behavior, as well, as learned behavior simply by watching another fish doing the same thing. Social learning refers to the catfish’s following the behavior of other fish. For example, if it sees a bunch of fish forging in a certain place for food, it will follow them because it knows it will find food there. Similarly, these fish are pretty good at identifying what prey is and what is predator, so they can avoid large and aggressive fish that can potentially harm them by observing the other fish in the water.

Learned behavior is without any obvious reinforcement of the behavior or associations, but the fish does learn it. This means flashing lights in one spot of the tank when the catfish is about to get food. After a while, the fish will learn to associate the flashing light with the arrival of food, turning this into a learned behavior that they previously did not adapt to.

Are catfish intelligent?

Yes, catfish can be considered intelligent for a number of reasons. They recognize their owner, they recognize when they are going to get food, and they have learned to evade danger. All of these things are signs of high intelligence in catfish.

These fish can remember colors and see some colors that humans cannot see, and they can also see UV rays that we cannot. The IQ of catfish is said to be between 30 and 40 in comparison to humans, but it is not a fair comparison considering how fish have a different brain structure than humans. Fish can also feel pain if you were to hold them incorrectly. When catfish are hooked, the receptors and nerves in their mouths will make them feel pain.

It is said although fish do not have a wide range of “emotions,” they can feel stressed and fearful in case of danger and when their environment is not appropriate. These feelings help the fish stay away from predators and also be more aware of the environment that they are living in. Also, their intelligence is clear when they hunt and prey on smaller fish by hiding and coming out of nowhere. An animal without brain function would not be able to do that.


The brains of catfish work much differently than humans based on the size of them relative to a human brain, but it does not mean that catfish are not intelligent. All different species of catfish have learned to adapt to their environment to be able to survive and be part of the ecosystem they live in.

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