Black Bullhead
Photo by L. M. Page
Adult from a tributary in the Fox River Dr., Lake Co., IL
48 mm SL, Collected 1-August 2000

Ameiurus melas (Rafinesque 1820)

Identification: The Black Bullhead has dusky or black chin barbels. The anal fin is comparatively short and rounded with 19-23 rays; the rays at the front of the fin are longer than those at the rear. The Black Bullhead lacks strong sawlike teeth on the rear of the pectoral spine but may have small teeth. The edge of the caudal fin is slightly notched in the middle. The color on the back and upper side varies from dark olive to yellow-brown. The sides are lighter, often shiny green-gold. The body below is yellow to white, and the fins are dusky to black. The caudal and anal fins have pale rays and black membranes. The body lacks mottling and a dark blotch at the base of the dorsal fin. The first gill arch has 15-21 rakers. To 24 1/4 in. (62 cm) total length.

Range: The native range of the Black Bullhead includes the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and Mississippi Rivers basins from New York to southern Saskatchewan and Montana, and south to the Gulf of Mexico, and drainages on the Gulf Slope from Mobile Bay, Georgia and Alabama, to northern Mexico. It has been introduced into Atlantic Slope drainages and elsewhere in the U.S. The species is common over most of its range.

Habitat: The Black Bullhead lives in slow current over soft substrates in pools and backwaters of creeks and small to large rivers, and in oxbows, ponds, and lakes.

Similar species: The Brown Bullhead, A. nebulosus, has 5-8 large sawlike teeth on the rear edge of the pectoral spine and 11-15 rakers on the first gill arch, and usually has dark mottling on the side of the body. Unlike in the Black Bullhead, the anal fin is uniformly colored; i.e., the color of the membranes does not contrast with that of the rays. The Yellow Bullhead, A. natalis, has white or yellow chin barbels, no mottling on the side of the body, and 24-27 anal rays.

Black Bullhead map
Distribution Map