Black bullheads are distinguished from other, similar bullhead catfish by their very broad head and their long, dark "whiskers." These "whiskers" are known as barbels and are used to feel and taste their environment. They are dark brown to black on their top surface and yellowish or white on their undersides. Their fins are black and the tail fin is rounded, sometimes with a pale stripe at its base. Similar species include yellow bullheads,and brown bullheads. However, black bullheads are the only bullhead species with completely dark "whiskers." Yellow bullheads have no color on their "whiskers" and brown bullheads have light color on the ends of the "whiskers."
The native range of black bullheads extends west from the Appalachian mountain range to Arizona, north to southern Canada, and as far north and east as New York. They can be found as far south as northern Mexico and Florida. Black bullheads have been introduced to parts of California and Nevada. They have also been introduced to parts of England.
Black bullheads are found in most freshwater habitats, from small farm ponds to large lakes. They can survive in water that other fish species cannot, including water that is polluted, has low levels of oxygen, is very warm, and has lots of suspended sediments (is turbid). Because they are relatively small fish, black bullheads can also live in small creeks and rivers. They prefer areas with soft bottoms (in creeks and rivers) and stay away from areas where the water is free flowing and moves quickly. They feed in waters that are from one to three meters deep.
After spawning, eggs hatch in 4 to 10 days. Free swimming fry stay close to the adult male for around two weeks. During this time the young grow to about 25 mm in total length. They reach a total of 100 mm by the end of the first year and reach a maximum of 350 mm by the time they are 5 years old. They can mate after one year of growth. Black bullheads grow faster and become larger when there are fewer, other black bullheads around. Crowded conditions lead to lower growth rates.
After a female has constructed a nest, she attracts a male by nudging the male's abdomen with her snout. The female will deposit eggs into the nest and the male deposits his sperm onto them afterwards. The female guards the nest for the first day, then the male takes over for the remainder of egg and fry protection.
Black bullheads spawn between May and July. The female makes a saucer shaped nest in soft substrate, like silt or mud. She removes rocks and other debris with her snout. The male is nearby during her construction of the nest. Nests are usually in 2 to 4 feet of water. Sometimes nests are beneath a log or other structure. Females produce between 2,000 and 3,800 eggs. Spawning occurs five times over a one hour period. The male watches over the nest after the first day for up to ten days. When the eggs then hatch, they stay close to the male for up to two weeks.
Before breeding, females construct a nest using their fins. After breeding the female guards the nest for the first day, then the male takes over for up to 10 days until the eggs hatch. For the next two weeks the young remain close to the male.
Black bullheads live about five years in the wild and slightly longer in captivity. The oldest are around ten years old. They are easily kept in aquariums and adapt well to captivity.
Adults are not very active during the day, they feed mostly after dark, and are seldom seen or caught in rivers and streams until after dusk. Blacks bullheads tend to look for food along with small groups of other black bullheads.
Little is known about the size of the home range in black bullheads. They tend to utilize pools in rivers and occupy areas where food is available. ("A Boundary Waters Compendium", 2004)
Black bullheads have taste buds on in the mouth that help differentiate prey items. Barbels are used to pick up chemicals in the water and water movements. As in many catfishes the swim bladder is used to pick up on vibrations, as well as communicate.
Young black bullheads usually thrive on small crustaceans, like ostracods, amphipods, and copepods, as well as insects and their larva. Young feed in small schools during the middle of the day. Adults feed at night and eat on a wide variety of invertebrates. Midge larvae and other young insects are the main diet for adult bullheads. Black bullheads have been known to eat small fish and fish eggs as well. Black bullheads will also eat plant material and scavenge.
Young black bullheads may fall prey to largemouth bass and other basses, as well as walleye. They are protected from some predation by their venomous pectoral spines, that can inflict a painful sting.
Black bullheads can make the water in which they live more cloudy and turbid, making it difficult for other fish species to survive. Black bullheads are important intermediate predators in the ecosystems in which they live.
Black bullheads are not considered a problem to most humans. In areas where populations are very dense, they never grow to their maximum size, making them unpopular for fishing. Black bullheads can cause a painful sting with spines on their sides. Black bullheads contain small amounts of venom at the ends of these spines, which can cause pain for up to a week.
Though black bullheads are relatively small, they have become a popular fish among anglers. They are known for their good taste and amount of fight during a catch. Many black bullheads are kept in captivity because they adapt well and have a long lifespan.
Black bullheads are common and sometime very abundant throught their range. They have become a popular gamefish in many areas, so fishery agencies sometimes "stock" lakes and ponds with black bullheads for fishermen.
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Chris Rose (author), Eastern Kentucky University, Sherry Harrel (editor, instructor), Eastern Kentucky University.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
uses sound to communicate
on or near the bottom of a body of water
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.
an animal that mainly eats meat
flesh of dead animals.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
active at dawn and dusk
particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
union of egg and spermatozoan
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
mainly lives in water that is not salty.
animals that have little or no ability to regulate their body temperature, body temperatures fluctuate with the temperature of their environment, often referred to as 'cold-blooded'.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
specialized for swimming
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).
uses sight to communicate
2004. "A Boundary Waters Compendium" (On-line). Accessed October 31, 2005 at http://www.rook.org/earl/bwca/nature/fish/ictalurusmel.html.
Etnier, D., W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press/ Knoxville.