Wildlife - Species

Hardhead Catfish (Arius felis)


Hardhead catfish are members of the family Ariidae. Even though members of this family are commonly known as sea catfishes, they are not confined to marine waters. Sea catfishes can be differentiated from freshwater catfishes (family Ictaluridae) by the number of barbels. Sea catfishes have three pairs, whereas freshwater catfishes have four. As other catfishes, hardhead catfish lack scales and they possess a fleshy adipose fin. Hardhead catfish vary in color, from dark brown to dark blue and reach up to 40+ cm (16 in) in length.

Preferred Habitat and Biology

Hardhead catfish are a seasonal resident of the ACE Basin. They first appear as water temperatures moderate in the late spring, and they remain in the system until the water cools in the fall. The catfish then move off-shore and south, where they over-winter. Hardhead catfish spawn during the early summer in estuarine and near-shore waters along the South Carolina coast. The large (8-12 mm) fertilized eggs are collected by the male, and held in his mouth until hatching. Males do not feed during the one-month period while larvae and small juveniles are protected in this fashion. Little is known about growth rates or age at maturity for this species. The only obvious seasonal migration is from shallow estuarine areas during cold water temperatures warmer waters in lower latitudes. Hardhead catfish feed on epibenthic crabs, shrimps and small fishes.

Species Significance

Hardhead catfish are of no commercial value, and they represent a very small portion of the recreational in South Carolina. This species is abundant in South Carolina waters.


Jones, P.W., F.D. Martin, and J.D. Hardy, Jr. 1978. Development of fishes of the mid-Atlantic Bight: an atlas of egg, larval, and juvenile stages. Volume I: Acipenseridae through Ictaluridae. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Programs. FSW/OBS-78/12. Ft. Collins, CO.

Murdy, E.O., R.S. Birdsong, and J.A. Musick. 1997. Fishes of the Chesapeake Bay. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Roumillat, W. 1998. Personal communication. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division, Charleston, S.C.