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Ameiurus natalis

What do they look like?

Yellow bullhead are ray-finned fish that lack scales. The upper side of the body can be yellow to olive, brown, mottled gray, or black. The belly is usually a yellow color. The caudal (tail) fin is rounded and unforked. Yellow bullhead may live to be 7 years old, and grow up to 45.7 to 48.3 centimeters long and weigh up to 3.2 kilograms.

Yellow bullhead are similar to black bullhead and brown bullhead. They differ from these two species in that they have white or yellow chin barbels (that look like whiskers). Both black and brown bullhead have some dark color on the chin barbels.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    454 g
    16.00 oz
  • Average mass
    1278 g
    45.04 oz
  • Range length
    20.3 to 25.4 cm
    7.99 to 10.00 in

Where do they live?

Yellow bullhead range throughout the eastern United States, extending north to southeastern Canada and west to the Great Plains and Rio Grande drainage; they have also been introduced in other places.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Yellow bullhead prefer backwaters with slow current in rivers and streams. They can be found in the shallow parts of streams, lakes, ponds, or large bays. Yellow bullhead can live in silty, polluted waters with slow current and low levels of oxygen clean, clear waters. Yellow bullhead are bottom dwellers, living in areas with muck, rock, sand, or clay substrates.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • benthic
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools

How do they grow?

Yellow bullhead eggs hatch five to ten days after fertilization. The male yellow bullhead guards the nest during this time. When they hatch the young fry are herded into tight schools by the male and protected until they are about two inches long. They are able to mate when they reach 2 to 3 years old or at least 140 mm in length.

How do they reproduce?

Yellow bullhead males dig nests, which might be a shallow depression in the mud to a deep burrow in the stream bank. They prefer nest sites that are protected by underwater vegetation or by rocks or stumps. Nest sites attract females for mating.

Yellow bullhead breed from April until June, beginning when water temperatures reach 23 to 28 degrees Celsius. The female produces 300 to 700 sticky yellowish eggs each time she breeds, and the nest can contain from 1700 to 4300 eggs altogether.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Yellow bullheads breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Yellow bullheads breed and spawn from April to July.
  • Range number of offspring
    1700 to 4300
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average time to hatching
    5-7 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2-3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    730 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2-3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    730 days

Both the male and female help in the construction of the nest and, while the young are in the nest, one of the parents will guard them. After the fry hatch the male herds the young into a dense ball and will protect them until they grow to two inches long.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male

How long do they live?

Yellow bullheads can live up to 7 years in the wild. Most yellow bullheads probably die when they are eggs, fry, or small fish.

How do they behave?

Not much is known about the behavior of yellow bullheads. They are very social, are most active at night, and probably tend to stay in the same general area.

Home Range

At this time their is no information on home range in yellow bullheads.

How do they communicate with each other?

Yellow bullheads are a very social fish and can recognize other yellow bullheads by their smell. They use their nose to smell and the "whiskers" and taste buds are used to find food. Taste buds are found in the mouth and all over the body. Yellow bullheads have 5 taste buds every 5 mm² of their body surface. The "whiskers" serve as both an external tongue and hands. Bullheads can feel with their body and their barbels. They also have 20,000 taste buds on the eight whiskers. The average adult has a total of over 200,000 taste buds on its body.

What do they eat?

Like other catfish species, yellow bullheads will eat almost anything that they can, including scavenging. Yellow bullheads feed at night. They have been known to eat minnows, crayfish, insects and insect larvae, aquatic invertebrates, and worms. Yellow bullheads also eat aquatic vegetation. The young will feed on aquatic invertebrates.

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • carrion
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Yellow bullheads are preyed upon by larger fish such as largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill and other catfish. Large wading birds and some turtles will also prey on adults. Young yellow bullheads can be eaten by smaller predators, like dragonfly larvae and crayfish. They can inflict a venomous sting with spines on their sides, this helps them to avoid predation.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Yellow bullheads are parasitized by leeches (Hirudinea) and the freshwater mussels, creepers, use them to help disperse their larvae. Yellow bullheads are also important predators and prey in the ecosystems in which they live.

Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host

Do they cause problems?

Bullheads are well known for the stings they can give you from the spines on their sides. The pain can last for a week or more. The sting is caused by small glands near their fins that produce a poison which causes the swelling. The pain can be dulled by dabbing ammonia on the wound.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

How do they interact with us?

Yellow bullheads are considered good to eat and are sought by fishermen. Yellow bullheads also can be introduced into dirty waters because of their high tolerance to pollution.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Yellow bullhead populations are stable, they are not protected by any conservation listing.

Some more information...

Other common names of yellow bullheads are polliwog, chucklehead cat, butter cat, yellow cat, creek cat, white-whiskered bullhead, and greaser.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Gabe Jenkins (author), Eastern Kentucky University, Sherry Harrel (editor, instructor), Eastern Kentucky University.


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Gray, E., W. Lellis, J. Cole, C. Johnson. 2001. Host Identification for Strophitus undulatus (Bivalvia: Unionidae), the Creeper, in the Upper Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania. The American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 147, No. 1: 153-161. Accessed November 30, 2005 at

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University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Jenkins, G. 2006. "Ameiurus natalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 02, 2024 at

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