why do catfish turn white

Why Do Catfish Turn White? (Answered)

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If you have catfish in your pond, generally speaking they should be a nice dark green or green-brownish color, but that said, sometimes catfish change color, and yes, sometimes they even turn white.

So, why do catfish change color, and why do they turn white? it’s generally due to; 

  • Active camouflage to hide from predators.
  • Stress.
  • Disease (ich).
  • Diet / nutrition.
  • Lack of UV light.
  • Age.


a white catfish

Why Do Catfish Change Color?

There are a few different reasons why catfish may change color, so let’s start with the most obvious cause.

Active Camouflage

Ok, so the main reason why catfish change color is because they want to, or at least it is in their instinctive nature to do so. In case you did not know, catfish do actually have the ability to change their color at will.

Now, whether or not this is a conscious decision to change color, or just a knee jerk reaction to their surroundings is unknown.

However, based on the fact that catfish are not overly intelligent, a reaction to the surroundings seems likely. Either way, when catfish feel threatened, which is a lot of the time, they will change their color to match their surroundings (they also make noises too).

So, if you put a catfish in any sort of white or lightly colored container, it may very well change its color to white, or at least much paler than it was before, in order to camouflage itself, so it can hide from potential predators.

Related: Do catfish fight each other? 


A catfish may also turn white due to stress related reasons. Stress is a big time killer for many fish, and in fact all fish get stressed out quite easily.

There are many different things that can stress out a catfish, including bad water quality, very low dissolved oxygen levels in the water, being in crowded environment, being forced to compete for food, and being moved too fast or moved improperly.

The simple reality here is that there are many things that can stress out a catfish. Now, with that being said, it is unlikely that stress alone will cause a catfish to turn white, as this would probably be combined with another factors, most likely disease.

That said, stress alone can in some cases be enough to cause a catfish to turn white, and really any fish for that matter.

So, if your fish is turning white, you should try examining the water quality and all other such related factors that may cause stress in fish.


One of the other most likely things to cause a catfish to change color and turn white is disease.

There are various fish diseases that can cause fish to become pale, white, and just change color in general.

One of the most common illnesses that may cause fish to change color is known as ich, however there are many others too.

If your fish is changing color, and you can find no other reasons for it, you may want to have it examined for illness.


Yet another factor that may cause catfish to change color is their nutrition and overall diet.

If you feed your catfish food that does not contain any color pigments, and moreover, does not have enough nutrition to properly sustain the catfish, then chances are pretty big that it will start to lose its color.

Now, a catfish may not turn bleach white due to its diet, but it may certainly become a lot paler and less colorful.

Environmental Factors – Light

Yet another factor that may cause fish to turn much paler or white in color is a lack of UV light.

The pigments in official skin generally respond to UV light. The fish that is exposed to plenty of sunlight won’t be much brightly colored than a fish that is not.

Therefore, if you have a catfish that is constantly in the dark, then it is likely that it will be very pale or even white in color.

On the other end of the spectrum, catfish may also respond to dramatic changes in lighting levels by turning white.

In other words, if the catfish is used to being in the dark most of the time, but is then exposed to a huge amount of sunlight for a prolonged period of time, it may very well turn white, or at the very least turn much paler.


The other factor that may cause a fish to turn white is age. Some fish simply lose a lot of their pigmentation and color with age. This is completely natural.

Related: Can a catfish survive out of water? 

Do All Catfish Turn White?

No, not all catfish turn white, and in fact, the majority of them do not.

While catfish may change color due to a variety of reasons, and just become much paler in general, turning bleach white is not a common occurrence. It’s definitely a sight to behold.

Now, something that you need to be aware of here is that there are also albino catfish, or in other words, catfish that are born bleach white, just like albino tigers and even humans too. Some are just born this way.

For those of you who don’t know, albinism is generally caused by a defect in one of the genes that controls melanin production, with melanin being what gives skin color.

Keep in mind that there is also a species of catfish out there known as white catfish.

Are White Catfish Rare?

Ok, so what you need to know here is that there is also a species of catfish known as the white catfish, which are closely related to bullheads, AKA the Ameiurus catus, and yes, these are fairly rare, very rare in fact.

Moreover, white catfish that are white due to albinism are quite rare as well. Finding a real albino catfish is nearly impossible.

However, finding a catfish that has turned pale or white due to any of the reasons that we have discussed above, is more likely.

That said, white catfish are quite rare in general, and this is true whether we are talking about the white catfish species or the albinos.

In terms of albino catfish, the estimate is that not even one in a million catfish are albinos.

How Big Does A White Catfish Get?

If we are talking about the white catfish species, you can expect these to grow to 12 to 13 inches in length, and are generally no heavier than six pounds.


The bottom line here is that catfish may be white because they are actually white catfish, because they suffer from albinism, because they are using their active camouflage, or due to a number of other reasons too.


Image credits;

Zacatecnik, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region/FlickrCC