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Becker, George C. / Fishes of Wisconsin
(1983)

Bullhead catfish family - ictaluridae,   pp. 693-732 PDF (19.6 MB)


Page 699

 
Black Bullhead   699 
about or even breaks it up. The process undoubtedly 
provides the developing eggs with needed aeration 
and water circulation. 
  After the eggs hatch, the activity of paddling with 
the pelvic fins stops and the parent fish become more 
gentle in their movements, swimming about over the 
young that huddle in a compact mass encumbered 
by large yolk-sacs. By the time the young are able to 
rise off the bottom, they have attained most of their 
coal black coloration. The young fish rise in a cloud- 
like mass, and the parents try to keep them in a com- 
pact school by swimming about them, more or less in 
circles; the involuntary orientation of the young 
themselves, which is almost entirely visual, also 
tends to keep them together. 
  Young black bullheads remain in compact, swirl- 
ing schools for 2 weeks or longer; the conspicuous 
"balls" of black young move slowly near the surface 
in moderately deep water. When the young are about 
25 mm long, the adults cease tending them, and the 
fry move into shallower water (Forney 1955). Their 
first food consists of cladocerans, other small crusta- 
ceans, and very small midge larvae. 
  The growth of young-of-year black bullheads in 
Wisconsin has been recorded as follows (Paruch 
1979): 
                    TL 
          No. of   (mm) 
Date       Fish  Avg Range         Location 
18 July     5     24 23-25   St. Croix R. (Burnette Co.) 
29 July    45     29 22-39   Williams L. (Marquette Co.) 
14 Sept.    4     29 26-31   Little Yellow R. (Juneau Co.) 
19 Sept.    1     41         Little Sturgeon Bay (Door Co.) 
  Analysis of the annuli on the pectoral spines of 330 
black bullheads, taken from the Wisconsin River be- 
low the Du Bay Dam (Portage County), showed the 
following growth: 1-67 mm; 2-148 mm; 3-181 
mm; 4-209 mm; and 5-233 mm          (Paruch 1979). 
These fish, collected 21 January 1977, showed the 
following length-weight relationship: Log W = 
- 10.811311 + 2.924228 Log L, where W is total 
weight (g) and L is total length (mm). 
  In Little Lake Butte des Morts (Winnebago County), 
black bullheads averaged 206 (147-295) mm TL. The 
length-weight relationship of the mid-October sample 
is expressed by Log W = - 0.60180 + 2.92398 Log L, 
where W is total weight (g) and L is total length (in). 
According to Priegel (1966a), no stunting existed in 
this population and the sample fell into three age- 
classes: 11-198 (157-216) mm; 111-211 (150-267) 
mm; and IV-267 (239-295) mm. The condition value 
(KT,) calculated from Priegel's figures was 1.30. 
  The age of the black bullhead at maturity is vari- 
able. According to Cross (1967), maturity is reached 
in the second, third, or fourth summer, depending 
on the population density and the available food sup- 
ply. 
   Most large black bullheads seldom exceed 318 g (0.7 
lb). The largest known Wisconsin fish, caught in 1978 
from Black Oak Creek (Vilas County), weighed 1.30 
kg (2 lb 14 oz). The official record for a black bull- 
head caught on sporting tackle is a 610-mm, 3.63-kg 
(24-in, 8-1b) fish taken from Lake Waccabuc, New York, 
in 1951 (Walden 1964). 
  Black bullheads are opportunistic feeders that eat 
whatever food is available, including carrion. In the 
Wisconsin River below the Du Bay Dam (Portage 
County), the diet of this species consisted of Daphnia, 
cladocerans, Cyclops and other copepods, plant mat- 
ter, and unidentifiable insect parts and eggs (K. 
McQuin, pers. comm.). 
  Black bullheads 40-60 mm SL from Cedar Creek 
(Ozaukee County) had eaten: Hyallela azteca (54.1% 
of volume), insect larvae (19.2%), organic detritus 
(15.1%), insect adults (4.5%), fungi and algae (3.4%), 
small crayfish (2.8%), and miscellaneous (0.9%) (Dar- 
nell and Meierotto 1962). In the Madison area (Pearse 
1918), they had eaten, in addition to the above foods, 
snails, leeches, oligochaetes, silt, and debris. Midge 
larvae make up a considerable part of the black bull- 
head's insect food. 
  In Iowa (Harrison 1950), about 5% of the black bull- 
head's diet consisted of fish-scales and chunks of 
larger fish found dead on the stream bottom. Welker 
(1962) found that as many as 18% of the stomachs 
examined in August in Clear Lake, Iowa, contained 
small fish (common shiners and perch?). Larger bull- 
heads also take frogs (Carlander 1969). 
  Young black bullheads exhibit two distinct feeding 
periods-one just before dawn, and another shortly 
after dark (Darnell and Meierotto 1962). Little food of 
any kind is taken during the middle of the day or 
around midnight. Nocturnal fishes, such as bull- 
heads, rely largely on smell, taste, and touch and 
probably also use their lateral-line sense organs to lo- 
cate and catch their prey (Lagler et al. 1977). 
  Bullheads are highly sensitive to touch on the head 
and on the barbels. Taste buds are densely concen- 
trated on the barbels, but they also occur in the 
pharynx and the gill cavity, and cover the head and 
the body (Bardach et al. 1967); there are an estimated 
100,000 taste buds on the body of a bullhead (Lagler 
et al. 1977). Taste alone can guide the black bullhead 
to sources of chemical stimuli many fish lengths away 
Bullheads are also able to perceive both the intensity 


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