The strange skull of a common catfish

Object of the Month: 06/2007

What is it?:

Catfish skull

Where was it collected:

Channel catfish
Ictalurus punctatus
St. Paul, Minnesota 2001

Catfish skull
Catfish skull

These intricate bones come from a channel catfish, which swims in many Minnesota lakes and rivers. Notice how the skull contains many individual bones. In life, these are weakly connected, and separate easily as the fish decomposes. They often wash up on beaches, prompting people to wonder what these strange shapes might be.

In July 2001, the crew of the Science Museum’s boat, the RiverEye, found this catfish dead and floating in the Mississippi River, near the Watergate Marina. They cleaned the specimen and added it to our collection. Growth rings in the spine indicate this fish was 9 to10 years old when it died, about middle age for a catfish. It weighed 16 pounds (7 kg).