Open Spaces: Meet the Species: Madtom

Meet the Species: Madtom

By Brynn Walling, USFWS

The peak flow of water in the Neosho River drainage in Kansas, occurs in June and July.  This is also the time that the federally protected Neosho madtoms (a fish) begin spawning.  That means that there are currently madtom eggs being fertilized in Kansas as we post this blog! 

madtomMadtom (Photo: USFWS)

Neosho madtoms are a federally threatened species in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. These catfish face habitat loss due to dam construction. They are also affected by deteriorating water quality due to zinc-lead mining, agricultural runoff, and increased urbanization and industrialization.  These small catfish only grow to be about 3 inches long and  are only found in 4 locations. Not only are they scarce due to small populations, but they are bottom-dwelling night feeders, so they are a hard fish to spot anyways.      

Similar to other catfish, the Neosho madtom is a fish without scales.  They are also known for their rather large heads with sensory barbels. It is best identified by its light-colored edge around the adipose fin.  They also have a brownish stripe near the middle of their bodies.  These are short lived creatures with a lifespan of about 3 years. 

One might ask how a 3 inch catfish can be helpful to our ecosystem.  The answer is that these catfish control populations of aquatic insects including some flying insects. The catfish are also prey for larger animals such as fish, mammals and birds.  This is a prime example of the food chain that we learn about in our grade school science classes.  Without these fish in the ecosystem, the entire chain could be affected.

Each week, throughout this ruby anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act, we’ll highlight stories of conservation success in every state across the country. Stay tuned!

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Last updated: June 21, 2012