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Ameiurus nebulosus

Ameiurus nebulosus

Superregnum : Eukaryota
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Superphylum: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Cladus: Craniata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Megaclassis: Osteichthyes
Superclassis/Classis: Actinopterygii
Classis/Subclassis: Actinopteri
Subclassis/Infraclassis: Neopterygii
Infraclassis: Teleostei
Megacohors: Osteoglossocephalai
Supercohors: Clupeocephala
Cohors: Otomorpha
Subcohors: Ostariophysi
Sectio: Otophysa
Ordo: Siluriformes

Familia: Ictaluridae
Genus: Ameiurus
Species: Ameiurus melas

Ameiurus melas (Rafinesque, 1820)
Vernacular names
català: Peix gat
Deutsch: Schwarzer Zwergwels
English: Black bullhead
magyar: Fekete törpeharcsa
italiano: Amiurus melas
Nederlands: Zwarte dwergmeerval

The black bullhead or black bullhead catfish (Ameiurus melas) is a species of bullhead catfish. Like other bullhead catfish, it has the ability to thrive in waters that are low in oxygen, brackish, turbid and/or very warm.[2] It also has barbels located near its mouth, a broad head, spiny fins, and no scales. It can be identified from other bullheads as the barbels are black, and it has a tan crescent around the tail. Its caudal fin is truncated (squared off at the corners).[3] Like virtually all catfish, it is nocturnal, preferring to feed at night, although young feed during the day. It generally does not get as large as the channel or blue catfish, with average adult weights are in the 1- to 2-lb range, and almost never as large as 4 lb. It has a typical length of 8-14 in, with the largest specimen being 24 in, making it the largest of the bullheads. It is typically black or dark brown on the dorsal side of its body and yellow or white on the ventral side.[3]

Like most of the bullheads (and even flathead catfish), it has a squared tail fin, which is strikingly different from the forked tail of channel and blue catfish. It is a bottom-rover fish, meaning it is well-adapted for bottom living. It is typically dorsoventrally flattened, and has a slightly humped back.[4] Its color depends on the area where it is taken, but it generally is darker than brown or yellow bullheads. It can be distinguished from a flathead in that the black bullhead's lower lip does not protrude past the upper lip. Distinguishing it from the brown bullhead is a bit more difficult, depending on the area where it is caught, but a distinguishing detail between the two includes a nearly smooth pectoral spine on the black bullhead with the brown being strongly barbed. The anal fin also has a gray base, and the tail also has a pale bar. Also, the brown bullhead generally has 21 to 24 soft rays through its anal fin as opposed to the black bullhead's 17 to 21. The brown bullhead is also typically mottled brown and green on top instead of the darker black. Both the black and brown bullheads can easily be distinguished from the yellow bullhead as the yellow bullhead has white barbels under its mouth.[5]


Black bullheads are found throughout the central United States, often in stagnant or slow-moving waters with soft bottoms. They have been known to congregate in confined spaces, such as lake outlets or under dams. They are very tolerant fish, and are able to live in muddy water, with warmer temperatures and in water with lower levels of oxygen, which reduce competition from other fish.[5] Black bullheads also occur as an invasive species in large parts of Europe.[6]

They are omnivorous, so eat almost anything, from grains and other plant matter to insects, dead or living fish, and crustaceans. Midge larvae and other young insects are the primary diet for adult bullheads. Black bullheads have been known to eat small fish and fish eggs as well.[7] They have short, pointed, conical teeth, formed in multiple rows called cardiform teeth. Black bullheads have no scales; instead, they have about 100,000 taste receptors placed all over their bodies. Many of these are located on the barbels near their mouths. The receptors help the fish to identify food in their dark habitats. During the winter, black bullheads decrease food intake, and may stop eating altogether. Instead, they bury themselves around the shore line of the lake in debris, with only their gills exposed. This "hibernation" allows them to survive conditions of low oxygen and low temperature.[8]

Black bullheads start to spawn in April and continue through June. The females scoop out a small hole or depression in the lake floor and lay 2000 to 6000 eggs. The males fertilize the eggs, then care for them. When the eggs hatch a week later, both parents watch over the fry for a short while.[3]

Considered rough fish, black bullheads are not as popular for sport fishing as their larger relatives, channel catfish, blue catfish, and flat head catfish. However, they have pale flesh and make excellent table fare when water quality is good despite their small size. As with channel catfish, the flesh around the bellies and gills of larger individuals can be strong tasting due to yellow fat, but these flavors can be avoided by removing the fatty portions of a large specimen when cleaning. They are the largest of the bullheads and are one of several catfish informally referred to as mud catfish.

They have been introduced in many areas of the US because of their ability to survive (and even thrive) in less than ideal conditions, but they are seldom used in active stocking programs due to their relatively low desirability. Fisheries experts tend to not recommend them because they compete with bluegill and channel catfish for food and do not grow as fast or get as big as channel catfish. For that reason, finding them commercially for pond stocking is difficult. That said, in clean water, meat quality is very good, and unlike channel catfish, black bullheads reproduce and indefinitely maintain healthy populations without restocking in ponds populated with bass and crappie. In fact, as with bluegill, a pond with black bullhead in it needs a predator species such as bass to keep the bullhead population under control. Due to their ability to reproduce in a pond with bass, bullheads are the best catfish for mixed-species ponds that are not fished out and restocked regularly.

Black bullheads can be caught using similar techniques as for channel or blue catfish, although their small size may require smaller bait and hooks. They respond well to earthworms and tend to feed higher up in the water column than channel catfish. Like most catfish, they are most active at night, and tend to be less active during the day, bedding under piers or in shady shore areas.

In some areas of little to no fishing pressure, black bullheads have been found to be more aggressive and have been caught while casting and retrieving metal spoon lures.

At the base of their pectoral and dorsal fins are spines, which they can use as spurs to cut predators.[8]
See also

Bullhead catfish (general)


NatureServe (2013). "Ameiurus melas". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2013: e.T202674A2746540. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T202674A2746540.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
Black Bullhead Detailed Information – Montana Animal Field Guide Archived July 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-03-17. Retrieved 2011-05-19.
Phillips, G.L, Schmid, W.D, & Underhill, J.C. (1991). Fishes of the Minnesota region. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Leppakoski, Erkki. Invasive aquatic species of Europe: distribution, impacts, and management. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 1998. The Netherlands. 156-162.
"Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-08-25. Retrieved 2011-05-18.

The brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus) is a fish of the family Ictaluridae that is widely distributed in North America. It is a species of bullhead catfish and is similar to the black bullhead (Ameiurus melas) and yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis). It was originally described as Pimelodus nebulosus by Charles Alexandre Lesueur in 1819, and is also referred to as Ictalurus nebulosus.

The brown bullhead is also widely known as the "mud pout", "horned pout", "hornpout", or simply "mud cat", a name also used with the other bullhead species.

The brown bullhead is important as a clan symbol of the Ojibwe people. In their tradition, the bullhead or wawaazisii is one of six beings that came out of the sea to form the original clans.[2]


The brown bullhead grows to be approximately 21 inches (53 cm) in length[3] and is a darker brown-green dorsally, growing lighter green and yellow towards the ventral surface. The belly is off-white or cream, and the fish has no scales.[4] Additionally, there are darker, brown-black speckles along the entire surface of the fish. The brown bullhead has two dorsal fins, a single adipose fin, abdominal pelvic fins, and an anal fin with 21 to 24 rays. The tail is only slightly notched, with the dorsal and ventral lobes angling inward. The fish has barbels around the mouth and on the pelvic spine. The barbels around the mouth are black to yellowish brown on the chin and saw-like on the pelvic spines.[5] Juvenile brown bullheads are similar in appearance, but are more likely to be of a single solid color.[4]

The brown bullhead's mouth is slightly subterminal, with the upper jaw extending slightly past the lower jaw. This position enables bottom feeding. The brown bullhead may be distinguished from similar species by the absence of a tooth patch on its upper jaw with the lateral backwards extensions.[4] Adult brown bullheads range in size from 200 to 500 mm (7.9 to 19.7 in) and weigh between 0.5 kg (1.1 lb) and 3.6 kg (7.9 lb) (in extreme cases). Brown bullheads are ectothermic, heterothermic, and bilaterally symmetrical.[6] Brown bullheads can be distinguished from black and yellow bullheads by their yellow-black chin barbels, the missing bar at the base of the tail (which is present in black bullheads), and their 21–24 anal fin rays.[4]

The native range of the brown bullhead is in the Atlantic and Gulf Slope drainages. More specifically, it is found from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Mobile Bay, Alabama, and in the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and Mississippi River basins (from Quebec to Saskatchewan, south to Louisiana, and west to Texas).[7] However, there is evidence that the brown bullhead was historically absent from the Gulf Coast west of the Apalachicola River and east of the Mississippi River. The species is also abundant in many regions as a result of stocking for food or sport. These locations include Georgia,Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.[8] Brown bullheads are a social non-migratory species that lives the majority of their lives in schools.[6]

The brown bullhead thrives in a variety of habitats, including lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams with low oxygen or muddy conditions. In many areas of the United States, brown bullheads are opportunistic bottom feeders. The species has few natural predators and is not popular with fishermen, so it has thrived. Catfish are found in a variety of habitats, from lakes or murky ponds to drainage ditches. They are scarce during the day, but come out at night to feed, searching the bottom of a lake or river for food.[9] They eat insects, leeches, snails, fish, clams, and many plants. They are also known to eat corn, which can be used as bait. Similarly to other catfish, they spawn only after the temperature of the water has reached 80 °F (27 °C) in June and July. However, cooler temperatures are required before brown bullheads will spawn in the northern US.
Brown bullhead, Ameiurus nebulosus

Brown bullheads can withstand a wide range of water temperatures and low oxygen levels. Brown bullheads can survive waters with heavy pollution and dissolved oxygen values as low as 0.2 ppm.[6] Because of bullheads' tolerance of low oxygen levels, they are less threatened by winterkill and are capable of surviving in relatively extreme environments.[10]

This catfish is easily caught with natural bait such as worms and chicken livers. They have a scrappy but not unusually strong fight. Anglers often catch them by fishing off the bottom. When caught in very clear water when the flesh is firm and reddish to pinkish, the hornpout is quite edible and delicious.[original research?] Nevertheless, its genial cousins such as the channel catfish and the blue catfish are better known for their use as food. In most areas, they will not exceed two pounds in weight, with a current International Game Fish Association world record of 7.375 pounds (3.345 kg).[11]
Life cycle and reproduction

Brown bullheads typically live between six and eight years, but have been recorded as old as fifteen in captivity. The species spawns between April and June. For the duration of each breeding season, females will be monogamous. There are no consistent behaviors of mate attraction. The females lay eggs in dark, shallow locations such as under rocks and inside logs, where they are externally fertilized by the male. The fish face opposite one another during the fertilization process. Nests are primarily created by females, but the eggs are protected by both sexes. The eggs usually take six days to hatch, but may take up to 13 days. Female brown bullheads will continue to guard their offspring for a while following their hatching.[12] Both parents generally care for their offspring for an additional five days after the eggs hatch.[6]

Adults, both male and female, will reach sexual maturity around age three, and can produce between 10 and 10,000 offspring in their lifetime. Brown bullheads have occasionally been recorded eating their own eggs.[13]
As an invasive species

The fish has been introduced into many European countries, such as Poland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Romania, Estonia, Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia. Brown bullheads have also been introduced to western North America, Chile, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.[14]

Countries who have reported adverse effects from the introduction of the brown bullhead species include Iran and Turkey.[13]

Brown bullheads are omnivorous benthic bottom feeders. Their diet consists of algae, leeches, worms, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, crayfish, other smaller fish species and fish eggs.[15][16] Brown bullheads are typically nocturnal feeders, but have been reported to feed diurnally. Bullheads have poor eyesight and are heavily reliant on their sensitive barbels to locate their food.[6] The fish are omnivorous and will reportedly eat almost anything that fits in their mouth.[10]

Brown bullheads are the most susceptible to predators in their developmental stages, primarily as eggs. They are prey to the following species: northern pike, muskellunge, walleye, snapping turtles, water snakes, green herons, yellow perch, and sunfish.[6] Additionally, brown bullheads are used for small-scale commercial fishing, recreational fishing, and more specifically for consumption and research. Predation by other fish and coexisting species is only a realistic threat to bullheads under four inches, while the biggest threat to adult bullheads is humans. Brown bullheads have protective coloration to avoid predation.[10] As a mode of physical defense against predators, bullhead species have a sharp spine on the leading edge of their dorsal and pectoral fins. To use this adaptation as a defense mechanism, bullheads will stiffen the spine while being attacked, impeding the predator's ability to swallow while simultaneously releasing a venom to sting and burn the predator.[10]

Brown bullheads hold no special status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the United States Endangered Species Program, or under the CITES appendix.[6] Brown bullheads can tolerate very low dissolved oxygen levels that result from industrial and domestic pollution, aiding in their overall high rate of survivorship.[6] Brown bullheads are the most abundant species in many lakes and streams across the continent.
See also

Bullhead catfish (general)
Rough fish


NatureServe (2013). "Ameiurus nebulosus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2013: e.T202676A2746713. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T202676A2746713.en. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
"Ojibwe clan systems: A cultural connection to the natural world". Archived from the original on November 25, 2005. Retrieved September 15, 2005.
Page, L.; Burr, B. (1990). Peterson field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
"Brown Bullhead". University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. 2013. Archived from the original on April 21, 2017. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
"Brown Bullhead, Ameiurus nebulosus". Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
"Ameirus nebulosus: Brown Catfish (Also: Bullhead; catfish; Common bullhead, Common catfish)". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. 2011. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
Craig, Cody A.; Vaughn, Christopher R.; Ruppel, David S.; Bonner, Timothy H. (June 1, 2015). "Occurrence of Ameiurus nebulosus (Brown Bullhead) in Texas". Southeastern Naturalist. 14 (2): N35–N37. doi:10.1656/058.014.0213. ISSN 1528-7092. S2CID 85713384.
"Ameiurus nebulosus". USGS=April 20, 2017. May 29, 2012.
"Brown Bullhead Catfish." Aliens Among Us. N.p., n.d. Web. October 27, 2014. <http://alienspecies.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/eng/species/brown-bullhead-catfish Archived April 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine>.
"Species Profile- Bullheads". Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. May 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
"IGFA All-Tackle World Records: Brown Bullhead". International Game Fish Association. Archived from the original on July 22, 2020. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
"Brown Bullhead". Chesapeake Bay Program. 2012. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
"Ameirus nebulosus: Brown Bullhead". fishbase.org. 1998. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
"Ictalurus nebulosus". ISSG. April 11, 2006. Retrieved July 17, 2010.
"Brown Bullhead". Chesapeake Bay Program. 2012. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
"ADW: Ameiurus nebulosus: INFORMATION".

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