The wels catfish is a scaleless fresh and brackish water catfish recognizable by its broad, flat head and wide mouth. The mouth contains lines of numerous small teeth, two long barbels on the upper jaw and four shorter barbels on the lower jaw. It has a long anal fin that extends to the caudal fin, and a small sharp dorsal fin positioned relatively far forward. It uses its sharp pectoral fins to capture prey. With these fins, it creates an eddy to disorient its victim, which it then simply engulfs in its enormous throat. It has very slippery green-brown skin. Its belly is pale yellow or white. Wels catfish can live for at least thirty years and have very good hearing.
The female produces up to 30,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight. The male guards the nest until the brood hatches, which, depending on water temperature, can take from three to ten days. If the water level decreases too much or too fast the male has been observed to splash the eggs with the muscular tail in order to keep them wet. Colour varies with environment : clear water will give the fish a black coloration while muddy water will often tend to produce brownish specimens. Weight and length are not correlated linearly, and also depends on the season.
With a possible total length up to 3 m (9.8 ft) and a maximum weight of over 150 kg (330 lb) it is the second largest freshwater fish in its region after the beluga sturgeon. However, such lengths are extremely rare and could not be proved during the last century, but there is a somewhat credible report from the 19th century of a wels catfish of this size. Brehms Tierleben cites Heckl's and Kner's old reports from Danube about specimens 3 m (9.8 ft) long and 200–250 kg (440–550 lb) heavy, and Vogt's 1894 report of a specimen caught in Lake Biel which was 2.2 m (7 ft 3 in) long and weighed 68 kg (150 lb). In 1856, K. T. Kessler wrote about specimens from Dniepr which were over 5 m (16 ft) long and weighed up to 400 kg (880 lb). These reports, however, cannot be validated today for lack of physical evidence. Another point which makes these data unreliable is the abnormal length-weight-relation, a typical trait of big-fish-stories. A wels of 3 m (9.8 ft) would weigh much less, around 150 kg (330 lb), whereas a hypothetical specimen of 5 m (16 ft) would theoretically weigh about 700 kg (1,500 lb) or more.
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