Natural Highlights: Piebald Madtom

Madtoms are small members of the catfish family and several species live in the upper reaches of the Wolf River where they can find the water quality and habitat complexity they need to survive and reproduce. The boldly patterned Piebald Madtom (Noturus gladiator) occurs in the Wolf, Hatchie and Obion rivers in the Coastal Plain of West Tennessee and North Mississippi, and possibly a few other rivers in Mississippi, all eastern tributaries to the Mississippi River.  While many other madtom species need clean gravel- or rocky-bottomed streams, the Piebald Madtom is among those which require a clean sand or clay bottom.  The word clean is key: this fish is sensitive to changes which lead to excessive sedimentation which could deprive it of the benthic invertebrates which make up its diet. The Piebald Madtom is a cavity nester, and it is the male which finds or creates the cavity, guards and fans the eggs with his tail, and spends 2-3 weeks shepherding the little school of young madtoms around to protect them.  This is a remarkable parental investment in relatively few young, and one of the life history characteristics which makes this species especially vulnerable to habitat degradation and disruption.

The upper Wolf River, thanks in part to the efforts of the Wolf River Conservancy, still has meandering, relatively natural stream morphology, abundant woody debris for cover, and intact riparian bottomland forests to reduce silt runoff, all of which provide conditions which allow the Piebald Madtom and other sensitive aquatic species to maintain stable populations.  

To learn more about the Piebald Madtom, visit the following link:


Posted by Cathy Justis at 4:45 PM