Ever Heard of Catfish “Pearls”?

Catfish and pearls

Saltwater catfish produce pearls.


Shiny, hard, tear-drop-shaped pieces of calcium (I suppose) that range from the size of a grapefruit seed to the size of a marble, based on the ones I’ve seen.

I came by this knowledge while fishing with my brother Steve one evening in Santa Rosa Sound. After catching a pretty large one, he told me that saltwater catfish had pearls in their heads and asked if I had ever seen them.

I was skeptical to say the least. With good reason. He and my other brothers had me convinced as a child that “Later Claus” was coming the day after Christmas to take back all my toys.

I don’t take the bait as easily these days.

But Steve cleaned the catfish and then started digging around near where its spine ends. Sure enough, within minutes, he produced two shiny orbs that were as hard as oyster shells and that looked and felt for all the world like pearls.

As soon as I got home, I started searching the Internet for more information, but there’s hardly any available. I did find an old New York Times article from about 1910 or so that discussed catfish pearls being the next big thing. Apparently the Times was wrong because after that, I find nothing about a burgeoning catfish pearl market.

So last night I went on my own pearl-diving mission inside a freshly caught catfish. It took some effort, but eventually I produced the pearls pictured here. The best way to get to them is  . . . well, dig around on the inside of the fish’s head about halfway between the eye and the dorsal fin at either side of the spine. Keep digging until you find them.

If you’ve never handled a catfish before, be careful because the fins are mildly poisonous.  (If you have handled a catfish before, you know that “mildly” means it still stings like hell.)

Though you can’t tell from the crappy picture, they really are pretty.

My question to all of you is: Have you ever heard of catfish pearls before? If so, please leave a comment and tell us what you know about them. I’m especially interested in knowing exactly what purpose they serve for the fish. Even if you’ve never heard of them, please share this post with anyone you think might know.

I’m also interested in whether it’s only saltwater catfish that have pearls or if other varieties or even other species have them as well.

I’m looking forward to your responses.

In the meantime, I’ll be collecting ‘pearls’ from every catfish I catch.

PS – If you see Mary wearing new earrings, be sure to tell her they look expensive.

PPS – Don’t mention this post.

It’s just like going to the jeweler’s — if the jeweler had whiskers and gills and kept these inside his head.



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