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

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


Page 706

706    Bullhead Catfish Family-Ictaluridae 
... Bullheads buried themselves by thrusting with the 
head in a strong swimming motion. The fish, which may 
have been meandering leisurely over the surface of the 
mud, quickly tilted the body to an almost vertical position 
and drove its entire body into the sediment with a few vig- 
orous movements .... After burial the body was covered 
with from a fraction of an inch to 2 inches of sediment, the 
long axis of the body was horizontal or tilted slightly up 
toward the mouth, and the lateral axis was canted at an 
angle so that one gill more or less pointed up and the other 
down.... The mouth was brought into direct contact with 
the free water above the surface of the mud . . . [or] the 
buried fish often made contact with the free water by suck- 
ing in the inch or 2 of sediment covering its mouth and 
expelling the material in geyser fashion from the upper- 
most gill. In this way a small funnel was formed over the 
mouth and the material from the funnel was deposited 
over the gill in a volcano-like mound so that an open pas- 
sage of water extended from the gill to the top of the 
mound. 
Loeb noted that two bullheads were found buried for 
several hours beneath 5 cm of sediment without the 
presence of a funnel over the mouth, or of a passage 
over the gill. It was assumed that they were breath- 
ing through the 5 cm of organic botton ooze. Older 
literature references indicate that bullheads can sur- 
vive several weeks in cocoonlike clods of nearly dried 
mud; however, this has not been substantiated. 
  In Folsom Lake, California, tagged brown bull- 
heads released at the point of capture traveled an 
average of 2.7 km (1.7 mi) before they were recap- 
tured by anglers. The longest distance traveled was 
26.1 km (16.2 mi) (Emig 1966a). 
  The brown bullhead is chiefly nocturnal in its hab- 
its, and its activity increases with the approach of 
darkness. Normally, this species is not accused of 
stirring up bottom sediments and creating turbidity; 
however, when brown and yellow bullheads were re- 
moved from an Alabama pond which had been very 
muddy for years, the water clarified, and a dense 
growth of algae followed (Tarzwell 1941). Tarzwell 
concluded that the bullheads limited vegetation and 
food production by stirring the bottom and by keep- 
ing the water continually roiled. 
  In 1969, 35 brown bullheads were collected from 
Rebholz Creek (Door County) along with bluntnose 
minnow (35), fathead minnow (4), golden shiner (18), 
northern redbelly dace (24), common shiner (64), 
spottail shiner (3), blacknose shiner (50), sand shiner 
(6), mimic shiner (12), black bullhead (25), white 
sucker (3), smallmouth bass (1), rock bass (10), 
pumpkinseed (7), northern pike (2), central mud- 
minnow (5), and banded killifish (10). 
IMPORTANCE AND MANAGEMENT 
The brown bullhead has been preyed on by lam- 
preys, northern pike, snapping turtles, water snakes, 
and green herons. In Lake Winnebago during the fall 
of 1960, it was the third most important fish item con- 
sumed by the walleye; only perch and white bass 
were consumed more often (Priegel 1963b). 
  The brown bullhead is a host to the glochidial stage 
of the mollusks Megalonaias gigantea and Quadrula 
pustulosa; it is one of several fish species responsible 
for the distribution and perpetuation of those clam 
species (Hart and Fuller 1974). 
  Man catches the brown bullhead over soft bottoms 
where there is considerable aquatic vegetation. The 
hook is baited with raw beef, worms, or minnows. 
Hankinson has caught the brown and yellow bull- 
heads with just a chunk of beef tied on a line and no 
hook (Adams and Hankinson 1926); often two fish 
were pulled in at one time, persistently clinging to 
the meat. 
  The name "red cat" for the brown bullhead comes 
from the red color of its flesh, and is used in areas 
where the dressed fish are sold commercially The 
meat is very tasty, especially when the bullheads are 
taken from clean water in the spring and fall. 
  Man has used the brown bullhead extensively as a 
laboratory animal in assessing physiological changes 
involving factors such as temperature, taste, oxygen 
consumption, blood group agglutinins, and osmo- 
regulation. It has also been subjected to toxicity 
bioassays, in which petroleum refinery effluents 
were used as toxicants (Bunting and Irwin 1965). 
  In the commercial harvest of bullheads in Wiscon- 
sin (see Black Bullhead, p. 700), the brown bullhead 
is categorized with the black and yellow bullheads, 
and probably constitutes only a small portion of the 
bullhead catch; it is probably of the least importance. 
Restaurants prefer to buy brown bullheads (called 
"red cats") which weigh 91-318 g (0.2-0.7 lb) alive, 
so that one or more fish can be included in one serv- 
ing (Swingle 1957a). 
  In Connecticut (Marcy and Galvin 1973), brown 
bullheads constituted 12% of the estimated number 
of fish caught in the heated discharge canal of a nu- 
clear power plant. The winter catch (January through 
March) at the canal was dominated by carp, followed 
by the brown bullhead. During this period the tem- 
perature of the canal water was about 14'C (57.2°F). 
There appeared to be a relationship between water 
temperature and the catch rate: on and immediately 
after days when the plant reduced its power level 
enough to lower the water temperatures consider- 
ably, the catch rate declined. 


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