Carolina Madtom

Illustration: Duane Raver
(Enlarge image)

Scientific Name: Noturus furiosus

Classification: Federal Species of Concern, State Threatened

Abundance: Rare (green areas)


Species Profile (PDF)
Fact sheet (PDF)


Carolina madtom (Photo: NCWRC)

Carolina madtom (Photo: NCWRC)

Carolina Madtom

This small fish reaches a maximum length of nearly 5 in. When compared to other madtoms, the Carolina Madtom has a short chunky body and a distinct color pat-tern. Three dark saddles along its back connect a wide black stripe along its side extending from its snout to the base of its tail. The adipose fin has a dark blotch that does not quite reach the fin’s edge, giving the impression of a fourth saddle. Yellowish to tan blotches space the saddles, while the rest of the fish has a tan color. The Carolina Madtom’s belly is not speckled, and the tail has crescent-shaped brown bands near its edge and center. They have stinging spines in their pectoral fins that can pack quite a wallop, earning them their “furiosus” title. The Carolina Madtom is one of six madtoms that occur in North Carolina. It belongs to the family Ictaluridae, which also includes the better-known bull-heads and catfish. Other than its small size, the main difference between the madtom and its counterparts is that the madtom’s adipose fin is fused to its caudal fin. The genus name Noturus, which means “back tail” in Latin, refers to this fusion.

This species is endemic to the Tar and Neuse river basins. Carolina Madtoms prefer free-flowing streams with clean sand or gravel bottoms. During the summer, they can be found hiding under mussel shells, logs, pieces of bark, and other cover. 

Females produce anywhere from 80-300 eggs per season and lay them in cover areas. Males guard the nest until the eggs hatch. Juveniles grow about two inches in their first two years and then mature between age two and three. 

It is not certain how long these fish live, but they at least reach 4 years of age.

Madtoms feed primarily on bottom-dwelling invertebrates such as larval dragonflies and diving beetles.

Learn more by reading the Carolina Madtom species profile.


The Carolina Madtom is a nongame fish and is protected under the state Endangered Species Act as a threatened species.  No Carolina Madtoms can be collected or killed without a permit from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.


Conservation Plan for Five Rare Aquatic Species Restricted to the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River Basins in North Carolina - 2020 (~6 MB PDF)

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, researchers noticed a steady decline in Carolina Madtom populations. Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission launched a project in 2007 to find where the madtoms occurred. They conducted 60 surveys throughout the Tar and Neuse river basins to determine the status of the fish. Data collected during the surveys suggest that the Neuse basin populations have dramatically declined over the past several decades. The Carolina Madtom was discovered at only 10% of the areas where the fish historically occurred. Only two populations were identified during the 2007 surveys in the entire Neuse Basin. On the other hand, the Tar Basin populations are doing much better; 90% of the sites sampled that historically harbored the Carolina Madtom still maintain healthy populations. Armed with this valuable information, NCWRC aquatic biologists can now make recommendations concerning management and restoration actions for the remaining Carolina Madtom populations. These projects should help reestablish populations of these rare animals to their native range.