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

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


Page 697

 
Black Bullhead   697 
Black Bullhead 
Ictalurus melas (Rafinesque). Ictalurus-fish cat; melas- 
     black. 
Other common names: bullhead, common bullhead, 
     black catfish, black cat, yellow belly bullhead, 
     horned pout, brown catfish, stinger, river snap- 
     per. 
Adult 182 mm, tributary to Green Bay (Door Co.), 5 June 1962 
DESCRIPTION 
Body robust, rounded anteriorly, compressed poste- 
riorly Length 165-229 mm (6.5-9.0 in). TL = 1.19 
SL. Depth into TL 4.0-5.1. Head length into TL 3.8- 
4.2. Snout bluntly pointed in lateral view, broadly 
rounded in dorsal view; elongated barbels of snout 
just anterior to posterior nostrils. Mouth short but 
wide, terminal and horizontal; very long barbel 
sweeping posteriorly from the upper jaw at each cor- 
ner of the mouth; 4 shorter barbels attached in a 
transverse line on the lower chin. Numerous minute 
needlelike teeth in broad bands on upper and lower 
jaws. Dorsal fin origin about midway between pec- 
toral and pelvic fins; dorsal fin with a stout spine and 
5-6 rays; dorsal adipose fin free at posterior end. Anal 
fin rays including rudimentaries 15-21; pelvic fin rays 
8; pectoral fin with a stout spine, slightly rough to 
irregularly toothed on posterior edge; caudal fin 
somewhat square and slightly notched at midpoint. 
Scaleless. Lateral line complete. Digestive tract 0.8- 
1.5 TL. Chromosomes 2n = 60 (LeGrande 1978). 
  Dorsal region of head, back, and upper sides olive 
to black; sides lighter; belly whitish to yellowish, 
with color usually extending up to base of caudal fin 
as a pale bar. Barbels black or gray. All fins dusky, 
with dark edges and black interradial membranes. 
  Breeding male black with bright yellow or white 
belly. 
  Sexual dimorphism. Male with distinctive urogen- 
ital papilla extending posteriorly; absent in female. 
One opening behind the vent in male, 2 openings 
behind the vent in female (Moen 1959). 
   Hybrids: Black bullhead x brown bullhead from 
 Lost Lake and Crawfish River (Dodge County) (Wis. 
 Fish Distrib. Study 1974-1975). Experimental black 
 bullhead x channel catfish, black bullhead x yellow 
 bullhead, black bullhead x white catfish, black bull- 
 head x blue catfish (Dupree et al. 1966). 
 DISTRIBUTION, STATUS, AND HABITAT 
 In Wisconsin, the black bullhead is widely distrib- 
 uted in the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, and 
 Lake Superior drainage basins. 
 The black bullhead is the most abundant of Wis- 
 consin's bullhead species. It is also the most tolerant 
 of agricultural siltation, industrial and domestic pol- 
 lutants, and warm water. In the Lake Superior basin, 
 the black bullhead is classified as widespread and 
 common in the streams of western Lake Superior 
 (McLain et al. 1965). Its distribution, especially in 
 northern Wisconsin, is much more extensive today 
 than it was in the mid-1920s. 
   Quiet backwaters, oxbows, impoundments, ponds, 
lakes, and low-gradient streams are typical habitats 
of the black bullhead. In Wisconsin, it was encoun- 
tered in water of varying turbidity, most frequently 
at depths of less than 1.5 m, over substrates of sand 
(24% frequency), gravel (20%), mud (16%), silt (15%), 
rubble (9%), boulders (9%), detritus (4%), clay (1%), 
hardpan (1%), and bedrock (1%). It was taken in 
streams of the following widths: 1.0-3.0 m (13% fre- 
quency), 3.1-6.0 m (15%), 6.1-12.0 m (12%), 12.1-24.0 
m (31%), 24.1-50.0 m (18%), and more than 50 m 
(11%). 
BIOLOGY 
The spawning of the black bullhead usually occurs 
from April through June, but ripe females have been 
taken at Wisconsin's latitude as late as early August 
(Forney 1955). When the water temperature reaches 
21'C (69.8°F), saucer-shaped nests 15-36 cm (6-14 in) 
diam are constructed in the mud or sand in water 
0.6-1.2 m (2-4 ft) deep. The nests are built beneath 
matted vegetation, woody debris, or overhanging 
banks, or in muskrat burrows. The female constructs 
the nest (Wallace 1967:853): 
... The excavation was carried out by downward fanning 
of the pelvic fins, side-to-side fanning of the anal fin, and 
pushing of small pebbles toward the periphery of the 
depression with the snout. The male was nearby, but did 
not assist in the excavation. When the male swam over the 
nest the female butted him in the abdominal area as if to 
push him from the nest. 


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