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3 Common Baby Flathead Catfish Questions Answered!

Baby flathead catfish – also known as baby yellow cat, mudcat, or shovelhead cat – are a unique species in the Pylodictis genus. These large North American fish are coincidentally both a common target of anglers and desired for home aquariums.

Because of their sheer size, they thrive best in natural stream and river environments, but that doesn’t stop some from keeping them as pets. 

Whether you’re a recreational or sport fisherman/woman, or an aquarium tender, you may want to know what these fish eat when they’re still young.

There is also curiosity surrounding their growth rate and compatibility in home aquariums, considering the fact that they’re an invasive species. Suffice it to say that there is a lot to learn about these fish before you try to catch them or keep them as your own.

Surprisingly enough, these fish have some cannibalistic feeding patterns when they’re babies, which we’ll explore in detail in this article. Next, we’ll dive into the specifics of keeping baby flathead catfish as “pets” in home aquatic settings.

And finally, we’ll explore the enormity of these creatures and how they end up growing more than five feet long and over 100 pounds in some cases. Keep reading to learn all about baby flathead catfish and get answers to three common questions about them.

Can You Keep A Baby Flathead Catfish As A Pet?

Technically, you can keep a baby flathead catfish as a pet (aquarium fish), but it’s not going to be the ideal environment for these fish. As large as they grow, mudcats are behemoths when compared to the tanks and aquariums people often want to place them in.

While most catfish are pretty peaceful, there are a couple of factors that make it risky to keep them as pets. 

Namely, baby flathead catfish may eat other baby flathead catfish when they’re still young. Thus, you run the risk of getting some catfish babies killed off if you don’t keep them in separate tanks.

Second, there is a risk in keeping baby catfish at home as pets due to the nature of their adult size.

Eventually, they will likely become too large for most people to conceivably care for at home, as they will outgrow their tanks/aquariums and need more space to roam. 

It’s also worth noting that this type of catfish typically prefers a habitat with deep pools of water, such as rivers, lakes, streams, and other natural spots. This is due to the fact that they like to have slow currents and cloudy waters to roam.

However, if you do keep baby flathead catfish as pets, make sure to put their aquarium in a dark, quiet part of your home. You’ll also want to maintain a tank with 5-6 companions (a flock), about 70-degrees Fahrenheit water, around 20 gallons, and a 6-7.4 water acidity level. 

“What lies beneath” by Justin Shearer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

What Do Baby Flathead Catfish Eat?

We already noted that baby flathead catfish sometimes eat each other, taking part in cannibalism. However, their diets consist of a variety of foods, ranging from insect larvae to small fish, worms, and crustaceans, depending on their size.

Once they reach adulthood, however, they will switch to a carnivorous diet of mainly eating other, smaller fish. Therefore, if you’re thinking of keeping baby flathead catfish as pets in an aquarium, you’ll want to cater to this diet. 

Most importantly, you want to supply food that will sink to the bottom of the tank since this is where catfish tend to feed.

Some examples of food you can try include live or frozen brine shrimp or Mysis shrimp, which are small and good for newly hatched baby flathead catfish.

Catfish also respond well to live or frozen blood worms (just make sure to fully thaw any frozen food before giving it to your flatheads).

Note that once a flathead catfish reaches about 10 inches in length, it will start to almost exclusively feed on other fish. If you want to keep these fish in a home aquarium with other aquatic life, you may want to stay away from the types of fish flatheads tend to eat.

These most commonly include drum, green sunfish, carp, and channel catfish. 

How Big Will Baby Flathead Catfish Get?

In order to accommodate baby flathead catfish in home aquariums as pets, you’ll also need to know how big these fish will eventually get. Like other fish, baby flathead catfish start small, but they grow quickly and will soon need a pretty large space to fit their needs.  

As larvae, baby flatheads start around just 12 mm in length, but as hatched babies, these fish tend to range between and grow up to 10-15 pounds while they’re still young. However, a flathead catfish is a true river monster, and they can and will grow in excess of 120 pounds.

Flathead catfish typically gain between two and five pounds annually until they’re eight years old. Furthermore, flathead catfish can live up to 20 years or more in some cases, meaning they may even grow larger. 

In terms of length, this fish species can grow up to about five feet long (about 60 inches). However, it is a more average occurrence for them to grow to about 25-46 inches (2-4 feet on average). In record-breaking instances, there was a flathead catfish found in the wild that was almost six feet long and a whopping 139 pounds.


Young flathead catfish are a topic of interest for both those who fish recreationally and those who keep aquariums in their homes or offices. Many catfish lovers want to know how large baby flathead catfish are and whether or not they’re suitable for keeping as pets. Young flatheads actually make good aquatic pets since they’re a type of fish that makes a “nest” and keeps it for a long time. Thus, a tank environment can be suitable under the right conditions and as long as you feed them high-quality, live food such as small fish, insect larvae, or worms.