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Black buffalo

Ictiobus niger

What do they look like?

Black buffalo have black backs, dark green or gold sides, and white bellies. These fish have a long dorsal fin, round body and head, and a short snout. They can be told apart from other related species such as bigmouth buffalo and smallmouth buffalo by the thick lips on the end of their snout and their more streamlined body. Species closely related to black buffalo (in genus Ictiobus) can interbreed to form hybrids, which can make it difficult to identify these fish. Adult fish have an average body length of 52 cm. In some cases, males may look darker in color. Young fish look similar to adults although they are smaller. (Bart Jr., et al., 2010; Johnson and Minckley, 1969; Johnson and Minckley, 1972; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    28.7 (high) kg
    63.22 (high) lb
  • Range length
    123 (high) cm
    48.43 (high) in
  • Average length
    52 cm
    20.47 in

Where do they live?

Black buffalo (Ictiobus niger) are found in the United States from the lower Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to Michigan, Ohio, and South Dakota. In the south, their range also extends to Louisiana. Black buffalo have been introduced into lakes and rivers in Arizona and Texas. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Black buffalo live in freshwater areas of pools, streams, rivers, and lakes with strong currents and deep waters. These fish prefer flooded areas with deep pools and vegetation during the breeding season in the spring. ("Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

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

How do they grow?

Black buffalo tend to live in deeper and faster moving waters than other similar species, which makes them difficult to observe. These fish move into flooded areas with higher levels of vegetation in the spring months to spawn. They move back into deeper waters with faster moving currents after the spawning season and stay there for the rest of the year. Young black buffalo grow quickly and have the same physical features as adult fish only with a smaller body size. They are usually fully grown and ready to start breeding when they are two years old. ("Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

How do they reproduce?

Black buffalo spawn in flooded areas in the spring. Females begin the spawning process by leaving their water bank and swimming around the males. Males usually fall in line with the female and swim next to her until she releases eggs. Multiple males then swim over to the area to complete the spawning process. During spawning, black buffalo may become excitable and unaware of water disturbances. The spawning process often takes several days to complete. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; Yeager, 1936)

Spawning takes place from April through mid-June. Black buffalo are ready to breed at around two years old. Breeding takes place in streams or ponds with fast currents. Black buffalo also prefer to breed in areas with sand, gravel, and plants materials. Females lay several eggs at a time and may mate with multiple males. The eggs become mature and hatch outside of the female's body. Although the exact number of eggs spawned per season is unknown, females may produce more than 9,000 eggs during their lifetime. Eggs are usually 1.8 to 2.4 mm in diameter. The eggs hatch within 24 to 36 hours in water temperatures ranging from 19 to 24°C. Black buffalo grow quickly, during their first year, growing an average of 134 mm. ("Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Reproduction of Ictiobus niger", 2004; Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Black buffalo breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    These fish spawn in the spring months.
  • Range time to hatching
    24 to 36 hours
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Black buffalo give very little parental care. The eggs are placed in deep pools with fast currents and have a sticky coating that helps keep them in place. This placement and coating helps protect the eggs until they hatch. Adults choose an area thick with vegetation, which helps ensure that food will be nearby for the young. The young grow quickly and find their own food and resources. ("Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Reproduction of Ictiobus niger", 2004; Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

The oldest known wild black buffalo survived to 24 years old. These fish are considered adults when they are about 2 years old. There is no information available about the captive lifespan of these fish. ("Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    24 (high) years

How do they behave?

Black buffalo spend most of their time in deep, fast moving water, but move into flooded areas during the spawning seasons. These fish are bottom feeders. More information is needed concerning the behavior of this species outside of the spawning season. ("Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

Home Range

The exact home range of this species is unknown, however, they can be found in the lower Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins and south to Mississippi and Louisiana. ("Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

How do they communicate with each other?

Black buffalo communicate with mates through physical movements to begin spawning. These fish may begin migrating to flooded areas for spawning in the spring due to changing day-length or water temperature. More research is needed to determine how black buffalo sense their environment. ("Reproduction of Ictiobus niger", 2004; Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012)

What do they eat?

Black buffalo have a wide diet, eating insect larvae, plankton, plants, and small mollusks. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • bryophytes

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Black buffalo have color patterns that look similar to the water colors of many lakes and rivers, this helps them blend in and avoid predators. Black buffalo spawn in flooded areas and have a sticky substance on their eggs, this helps protect the young even though they do not actively guard their young. Other fish species eat black buffalo and their eggs including rock bass. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Black buffalo are an important part of their ecosystem. By adding diversity to their habitat, they help keep it stable. These fish and their eggs may be eaten by other fish species as well as by humans. Likewise, black buffalo also prey on many species in their habitat. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; Self and Campbell, 1956)

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

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative effects of black buffalo on humans. In areas where they have been introduced, they do not seem to compete with native species. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012)

How do they interact with us?

Humans have been using black buffalo as a game species for many years. Sport and minor commercial fishing catch black buffalo for food and enjoyment. These fish also help keep the Mississippi River diverse, which makes for a more stable habitat. ("Ictiobus niger, Black buffalo", 2011)

Are they endangered?

Black buffalo are listed as a special concern species in Minnesota and threatened in Wisconsin, however, no information was found on the IUCN Red List or on the US Federal List. Black buffalo are of special concern in Minnesota, mostly because they are a rare species that is sensitive to changes in their habitat. Dams on the Mississippi River play a role in blocking fish mobility to spawning sites and passage to preferred habitats. More information is needed regarding the life history and behavior of black buffalo. Buffalo fish species may also interbreed to form hybrids; this can make it difficult to determine how many individuals are present within each specific species. (Johnson and Minckley, 1969; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

Contributors

Cassandra Dahline (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2013. "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)" (On-line). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/EndangeredResources/Animals.asp?mode=detail&SpecCode=AFCJC07030.

NatureServe. 2012. "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger" (On-line). NatureServe Explorer. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=ICTIOBUS+NIGER+.

1983. "Fishes of Wisconsin" (On-line pdf). Ecology and Natural Resources Collection. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/EcoNatRes/EcoNatRes-idx?type=turn&entity=EcoNatRes.FishesWI.p0056&id=EcoNatRes.FishesWI&isize=M&q1=ictiobus%20niger.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2013. "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)" (On-line). Species profile: Minnesota DNR. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=AFCJC07030.

2011. "Ictiobus niger, Black buffalo" (On-line). FishBase. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/summary/speciessummary.php?genusname=Ictiobus&speciesname=niger.

2004. "Reproduction of Ictiobus niger" (On-line). Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Reproduction/FishReproSummary.php?ID=2994&GenusName=Ictiobus&SpeciesName=niger&fc=125&StockCode=3190.

Bart Jr., H., M. Clements, R. Blanton, K. Piller, D. Hurley. 2010. Discordant molecular and morphological evolution in buffalofishes (Actinopterygii: Catostomidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 56: 808-820. Accessed March 25, 2013 at http://www2.southeastern.edu/Academics/Faculty/kpiller/pdfs/Bart_et_al_2010.pdf.

Hendrickson, D., A. Cohen. 2012. "Ictiobus niger" (On-line). Fishes of Texas. Accessed March 25, 2013 at http://www.fishesoftexas.org/taxon/ictiobus-niger.

Johnson, D., W. Minckley. 1969. Natural Hybridization in Buffalofishes, Genus Ictiobus. Copeia, 1969 No. 1: 198-200. Accessed April 29, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1441719.

Johnson, D., W. Minckley. 1972. Variability in Arizona Buffalofishes. Copeia, 1972 No. 1: 12-17. Accessed April 29, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1442778.

Self, J., J. Campbell. 1956. close A Study of the Helminth Parasites of the Buffalo Fishes of Lake Texoma with a Description of Lissorchis gullaris n. sp. (Trematoda: Lissorchiidae). Transactions of the American Microscopical Society, 75 No. 4: 397-401. Accessed April 29, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3223611.

Yeager, L. 1936. An Observation on Spawning Buffalo fish in Mississippi. Copeia, 4: 238-239.

 
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Dahline, C. 2014. "Ictiobus niger" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 11, 2017 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Ictiobus_niger/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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