Do Catfish Eat Poop? Debunking Myths and Exploring Facts

Ever wondered if catfish really feast on poop? There is a good deal of myths and misconceptions surrounding these fascinating creatures, leading to some wild ideas about their diets. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of catfish, debunk the myths, and explore the facts about their actual eating habits.

do catfish eat poop

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Hold on to your aquatic pants; we’re about to enter a world of aquatic intrigue!

Do Catfish Eat Poop in Their Natural Habitat?

To tackle this question, let’s first look at the natural habitats of catfish. These fish can be found in a wide range of environments, from freshwater rivers, lakes, and ponds to brackish waters along the coast. With such vast and diverse habitats, their diets also vary depending upon the available food resources.

While it’s true that some catfish species play the role of scavengers in aquatic ecosystems, feeding on dead plants, insects, and fish, their diets are much more diverse than simply dining on detritus or waste. In fact, many catfish species are opportunistic feeders, which means they’ll eat just about anything they can find, including live prey such as small fish or invertebrates.

Now, when it comes to the consumption of poop, this icky matter is usually not a direct food source, but it might still hold some indirect value. Here’s why: some microorganisms thrive in nutrient-rich fecal matter, and these microbes can be nutritious food for certain catfish.

So, while they don’t purposefully chow down on poop, they may inadvertently ingest some while feeding on other substances.

Aside from this, it’s important to know that catfish have a keen sense of smell, which they use to locate their meals. In natural environments, they’re likely to rely on this olfactory prowess to find and feed on other organisms that are far more appetizing and nutritious than fecal matter.

Catfish Diet: What Do They Really Consume?

Now that we’ve debunked the myth that catfish primarily eat poop, it’s necessary to explore their real diets in more detail. As mentioned earlier, catfish are opportunistic feeders, which means their consumption varies greatly depending on the available resources in their habitats. However, we can still shed light on some common food items that catfish enjoy.

  • Insects and Larvae: Many catfish species relish eating insects and their larvae. They actively seek out insects both on the surface of the water and at the bottom of their habitats. Water beetles, mayfly larvae, and dragonfly nymphs are just a few examples of the types of insects catfish target as food sources.
  • Small Fish and Invertebrates: This category covers an extensive variety of prey for catfish. They consume smaller fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and more, often using their keen sense of smell to find and hunt down their prey.
  • Algae and Aquatic Plants: Certain catfish species, like the algae-eating Plecostomus, are known to feed on algae and other plant matter, helping to keep their environment clean and balanced.
  • Dead and Decaying Matter: Though not a fancy form of cuisine, scavenging on dead and decaying matter is still part of some catfish species’ diets. Consuming the remains of dead fish or plants helps in recycling nutrients within the aquatic ecosystem.

So, while their diets can be surprisingly diverse and varied, we can confidently say that poop is generally not a staple of the catfish diet.

common pleco

Poop-Eating Fish: Fact or Myth?

Although we’ve established that catfish generally do not consume poop as part of their regular diets, it’s interesting to note that there are other fish species that have been known to eat fecal matter. The phenomenon of poop-eating fish is usually attributed to their living conditions and the specific nature of their diets.


Some fish species, known as detritivores, specialize in consuming dead and decaying organic matter, including feces. Fish such as suckerfish and certain species of loaches are examples of detritivores that might ingest fecal matter as they feed on other forms of decomposing material.

Remember, their primary aim is not consuming poop, but they may still end up ingesting some while scavenging for organic waste.

Aquarium Conditions

In a closed ecosystem like an aquarium, where various species of fish are housed together, the possibility of fish consuming other fishes’ waste increases. Some fish, such as Bristlenose Plecos or certain species of snails, may inadvertently consume fecal matter while feeding on algae or other detritus present in the tank.

It’s essential to maintain proper aquarium hygiene and biological filtration to reduce the need for fish to feed on each other’s waste.


Just like any other living creature, when faced with a lack of adequate food resources, some fish might resort to more extreme measures, like consuming fecal matter, to survive. In such cases, the incentive to consume waste is out of necessity rather than preference.

Ultimately, we can say that poop-eating fish are more of a fact in specific circumstances than an outright myth; however, it’s crucial to understand that fecal matter is not the preferred or primary food source for most fish species.

bristlenose pleco

Unusual Fish Behavior: Reasons for Eating Poop

While we’ve established that consuming fecal matter is not a standard practice for most fish species, it’s still useful to understand why this unusual behavior might occur under certain circumstances. Here are a few factors that can explain why some fish might resort to eating poop:

Lack of Nutrients: In cases where fish have insufficient access to essential nutrients in their diets, they might resort to consuming waste material to compensate for the deficiency. Feces might be a source of some essential nutrients, particularly due to the presence of microorganisms that thrive in fecal matter.

Poor Water Quality: Suboptimal water conditions can lead to abnormal behavior in fish, including consuming feces. Poor water quality, particularly in closed ecosystems like aquariums, can contribute to a lack of available food and unhealthy living conditions, leading some fish to resort to unusual feeding habits.

Stress: Just as with humans, fish can also exhibit unusual behaviors when under stress. Chronic stress might lead to an increase in cortisol levels, which can result in behavioral changes, such as a deviation from their regular diet.

Poor Tank Maintenance: Inadequate aquarium maintenance, such as irregular cleaning and insufficient water changes, could lead to an insufficient supply of food and a build-up of waste. As a result, fish might turn to consuming fecal matter as an alternative food source.

Addressing Poop-Eating Behavior in Your Fish

If you’ve observed this unusual behavior in your fish, it’s essential to take action to rectify it. By adjusting your fish’s feeding habits, maintaining aquarium cleanliness, and being aware of the health implications, you can help prevent poop-eating behavior and promote a healthy environment for your aquatic pets.

Adjusting Feeding Habits

Ensure that you’re providing a well-balanced diet, complete with all essential nutrients required for your fish’s specific needs. For example, some fish require more protein in their diets, while others may require more plant-based food.

Regularly vary the food given to keep it interesting and ensure the needs of all fish species in the tank are met. If needed, consult an expert to help you assess and adjust your fish’s diet.

Maintaining Aquarium Cleanliness

Regular tank maintenance is vital for creating a healthy environment for your fish. Perform frequent water changes, remove any uneaten food, and clean the aquarium’s surfaces to prevent algae and waste build-up. Installing an efficient filtration system can also help maintain optimal water quality and remove waste particles.

Health Implications of Poop-Eating

Consuming fecal matter can expose your fish to harmful microorganisms and potentially lead to health issues. Observe your fish closely for any signs of illness, such as lethargy, unusual swimming patterns, and loss of appetite. If you suspect a health problem, consult a veterinarian experienced in dealing with fish to address the issue promptly.

By taking these measures, you can help create a healthy, thriving environment for your fish and discourage any unusual or unhealthy feeding habits.

Choosing the Best Catfish for Aquarium Cleanliness

While catfish generally do not eat poop, some species prove to be excellent helpers in maintaining the overall cleanliness of an aquarium. Most often sought for their algae-eating abilities, these catfish species can help keep the aquatic environment balanced and contribute positively to the ecosystem. When choosing the best catfish for your tank, here are a few popular options to consider:

  • Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus spp.): These catfish are known for their algae-eating prowess and are one of the most popular choices for community tanks. Their small size and docile nature make them compatible with a wide range of fish species. Bristlenose Plecos will feed on a variety of algae types, keeping the aquarium glass and decorations clean.
  • Corydoras Catfish: Another species that makes an excellent addition to most community tanks is the Corydoras catfish. These small, schooling fish are mainly bottom-dwellers that help maintain cleanliness by searching the substrate for leftover food particles. They are peaceful and active but should be kept in groups for proper socialization.
  • Otocinclus Catfish: The Otocinclus catfish is another algae-eating species that can help keep your aquarium clean. These small fish primarily feed on soft green algae, known as biofilm. They prefer to be in small groups (five or more is ideal) and need adequate hiding spots to feel comfortable.
  • Chinese Algae Eaters: Though not a true catfish, Chinese Algae Eaters are often categorized with them because of their similar body shape and behavior. These fish can grow large and become territorial, so it is essential to provide sufficient space and suitable tankmates.

By carefully selecting the appropriate catfish species for your aquarium, you can help maintain a clean and balanced environment for your aquatic pets.

Effective Fish Poop Removal Techniques

Fish waste is a natural part of any aquarium environment, but it’s crucial to manage and remove it effectively to maintain good water quality and overall tank cleanliness. By using a combination of scooping out waste, performing water changes, and utilizing aquarium vacuums, you can keep your aquarium in pristine condition, ensuring a healthy environment for your fish.

Scooping Out the Waste

Using a fine mesh net or a skimmer, you can manually scoop out visible waste from the water’s surface and bottom of the tank. This method works best for removing larger debris and should be used in conjunction with other cleaning techniques for optimal results.

Performing Water Changes

Regularly changing a portion of the aquarium water is essential for keeping your tank fresh and maintaining optimal water quality. Water changes not only help dilute and remove poop, but also uneaten food and harmful chemicals like ammonia and nitrite.

For most aquariums, it’s recommended to replace 10-20% of the water weekly, depending on the tank size, number of fish, and filtration system.

Utilizing Aquarium Vacuums

One of the most effective methods for removing fish waste is by using an aquarium vacuum or gravel vacuum. These tools allow you to target hard-to-reach areas in the tank and remove waste trapped in the substrate.

To use a gravel vacuum, simply insert it into the substrate, allow the waste material to be drawn up into the tube, and then dispense it into a bucket or waste container. It’s essential to vacuum the substrate thoroughly, covering all areas during regular maintenance.

By incorporating these techniques into your aquarium maintenance routine, you can effectively manage fish waste and promote a clean, healthy environment for your aquatic pets.


In dispelling the myth that catfishes primarily eat poop, we’ve explored the diverse diets of these fascinating creatures and discussed various aspects of aquarium maintenance. Have you encountered any unusual fish behavior or have any questions on the topic? Feel free to leave a comment below!

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