Ameiurus natalis

yellow bullhead



Type Locality

North America (Lesueur 1819).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Ameiurus, Greek, meaning “privative curtailed,” in reference to the caudal fin lacking a notch; natalis, Latin, meaning “having large buttocks” (Simon and Wallus 2004).



Pimelodus natalis Lesueur 1819:154.

Ameirus natalis Hildebrand and Towers 1928:121; Boschung 1989:69.

Ictalurus natalis Cook 1959:154 (Ross 2001).



Maximum size: 470 mm TL (Carlander 1969).


Coloration: Yellow-olive, brown, brownish black, or slate black above; bright yellow, yellow-white, or milk white below (Jones et al. 1978); chin barbels whitish (Knapp 1953; Hubbs et al. 1991). Peritoneum gray (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Counts: 24-27 anal fin rays (Knapp 1953 ; Hubbs et al. 1991) ; 15-16 caudal fin rays (branched); 6 dorsal fin rays (Tin 1982).


Body shape: Moderately elongate, robust body, little compressed laterally; thick caudal peduncle (Simon and Wallus 2004); head rounded (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Mouth position: Terminal, slightly subterminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


External morphology: Caudal fin rounded; eye contained in snout length 2.6 or more times; adipose fin free at tip (Knapp 1953; Hubbs et al. 1991).


Internal morphology: Ratio of digestive tract to total length is DT 1.3 TL; intestine well differentiated (Goldstein and Simon 1999); premaxillary band of teeth on upper jaw without a lateral backward extension on each side (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Wide ranging in eastern North America (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Texas distribution: Occurs throughout all but the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle drainages (Hubbs et al. 1991). Warren et al. (2000) listed the following drainage units for distribution of Ameiurus natalis in the state: Red River (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamichi River), Sabine Lake (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), Galveston Bay (including minor coastal drainages west to mouth of Brazos River), Brazos River, Colorado River, San Antonio Bay (including minor coastal drainages west of mouth of Colorado River to mouth of Nueces River), Nueces River.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Populations in the southern United States are currently secure (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Lakes, ponds, and slow moving streams (Knapp 1953; Glodek 1980; Simon and Wallus 2004). Collected from oxbow lakes (Zeug et al. 2005), in addition to the river channel of the middle Brazos River (Texas; Winemiller et al. 2000). Occurred throughout the Little River system (tributary of the Brazos River, central Texas); frequently found in the clear streams of the Balconian Province (Rose et al. 1981). According to Riggs and Bonn (1959), this species is known only from Briar and Buncombe creeks in Lake Texoma (a reservoir in Oklahoma and Texas), were it has been taken occasionally.


Mesohabitat: Common in areas of heavy vegetation in shallow water (Glodek 1980; Simon and Wallus 2004). Species prefers soft bottom and heavy weeds; inhabits clear and muddy waters, in lakes or rivers (Cahn 1927). Collected in greatest abundance at stations in a clear and shallow stream characterized by sand and clay substrate and heavy canopy cover from trees and willows; species was most common catfish in the upstream reach of Allens Creek (Brazos River), Texas (Linam et al. 1994). Results of a seven-year study to determine the effect of vegetation removal on fish populations in Lake Conroe (a large reservoir in Texas), showed no significant change in biomass or density of the Ameiurus natalis population (Bettoli et al. 1993). Relatively sedentary (Ball 1944; Shoemaker 1952); tagged specimens in a 10-acre lake traveled within 91 m area from point of release (Ball 1944). In Missouri streams, species sedentary, with tendency to travel greater distances upstream than downstream (Funk 1955). At an acclimation temperature of 25°C, specimens measuring 46-116 mm TL had critical thermal maxima (loss of equilibrium) of 38.0 ± 0.44°C, and an upper lethal tolerance of 39.8 ± 0.92°C (Carveth et al. 2004). In a study of diel activity, fish exhibited a nocturnal activity pattern (Reynolds and Casterlin 1977). In Target Lake, Wisconsin, Greenbank (1956) studied the movement of various fish species under the ice, and suggested that movement of Ameiurus natalis was conditioned by a reduction in light intensity; movement of this species was greatest when water was in virtual darkness.



Spawning season: Mid-May – early-June (Fowler 1917; Jones et al. 1978). Generally takes place during a two week time period, in the months of May – July depending on the region (Fowler 1917; Simon and Wallus 2004).


Spawning location: Spleophils – hole nesters (Wallace 1972; Simon 1999). In Illinois lakes, spawning occurs in heavy banks of weeds; in rivers, up under overhanging branches or at the entrance of deserted muskrat burrows (Cahn 1927). Adhesive eggs are laid in the hollow or small nest (usually only somewhat larger than the fish), or burrow (up to 60 cm long) and attach to vegetation (Fowler 1917).


Reproductive strategy: Guarders; nest spawners (Cahn 1927; Simon 1999). Both male and female excavate the nest; male will guard and brood the young, continuing their care for sometime after young leave the nest (Fowler 1917). In captivity, both male and female participated nest excavation by fanning with fins; the female also moved pebbles out of area using snout, and carried away gravel in her mouth. During spawning, male and female lie parallel facing opposite directions, each placing caudal fin over head of the other. Male arched ventral area toward urogenital area of female. This act was repeated several times and the eggs were deposited. After spawning, the female was chased from the nest and the male returned to fan and guard the nest site (Wallace 1972).


Fecundity: Usually 300 to 700 yellowish-white, adhesive eggs are deposited in a nest (Fowler 1917). In Minnesota, during the first week of July, three specimens, 254-279 mm TL, had egg counts of 3,950-4,270 (Vessel and Eddy 1941). A 282 mm TL specimen, collected from the Ouachita River drainage in Louisiana, contained 5387 ovarian eggs, 243 of which were ripe (Simon and Wallus 2004). Jones et al. (1978) reported fecundity of 1650-7000. Ripe ovarian eggs are light orange to orange (Simon and Wallus 2004). Fertilized eggs approximately 2.5-3.0 mm in diameter (Wallace 1969, 1972). Incubation period of 5-10 days at unspecified temperature (Jones et al. 1978; Simon and Wallus 2004).


Age/Size at maturation: Age 2 or 3, at a minimum length of 140 mm (Simon and Wallus 2004). Jones et al. (1978) reported that sexual maturation is reached during 3rd year, at a minimum size of about 127 mm.


Migration: No spawning migration (Simon and Wallus 2004).


Longevity: Six years (Schoffman 1955).


Food habits: Goldstein and Simon (1999) listed first and second trophic classifications for this species as invertivore/carnivore, and benthic/whole body, respectively. Stomachs from Virginia specimens contained decapods (Astacidae, Palaemonidae), ephemeropteran nymphs, annelid, coleopteran, and unidentified insect parts (Flemer and Woolcott 1966). Diet includes available animal matter, such as fish, crayfish, or any refuse they might find; mostly inactive during the day, feeding at dusk and far into the night (Cahn 1927).


Growth: Average growth in Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee: 184 mm TL (age 1), 333 mm (age 2), 371 mm (age 3), 402 mm (age 4), and 429 mm (age 5; Schoffman 1955). Growth rates in smaller streams may be considerably slower; in a small tributary in western Mississippi, Ross (2001) collected age class 2 and 3 fish measuring less than 200 mm SL.


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes:

Ameiurus natalis similar to the black bullhead Ameiurus melas; differs in having light chin barbels as opposed to black, having the third and fifth anal rays about equal to the posterior rays, and having a higher anal ray count (usually 24-27 versus 19-24; Ross 2001).   


Host Records:

Mayberry et al. (2000) listed parasite species infecting Texas populations of Ameiurus natalis including Cestoda: Proteocephalidae, Proteocephalus ambloplitis; Trematoda: Alloglossidium kenti, Cleidodiscus pricei, Phyllodistomum caudatum, Posthodiplostomum minimum, Gyrodactylus; Nemata: Spinectus carolini, Spinectus microcantus, Spyroxis contorta.


Commercial or Environmental Importance: 

Whittier and Hughes (1998) reported Ameiurus natalis to be tolerant or moderately tolerant of the following five ecosystem stress factors in lakes of the northeastern United States: eutrophication, turbidity, human activity in the watershed and along the shoreline, and species introductions; overall classification of species in this study was moderately tolerant. The yellow bullhead is said to be an excellent panfish (Cahn 1927; Knapp 1953).


[Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Hubbs (1954); Evans and Noble (1979); Kleinsasser and Linam (1987); Linam and Kleinsasser (1987a, 1987b); Matthews et al. (1996); Armstrong (1998).]



Armstrong, M.P. 1998. A fishery survey of the middle Brazos River Basin in north-central Texas. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 2. Arlington Ecological Field Office, Arlington. 26 pp.

Ball, R.C. 1944. A tagging experiment on the fish populations of Third Sister Lake, Michigan. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 74: 360-369.

Bettoli, P.W., M.J. Maceina, R.L. Noble, and R.K. Betsill. Response of a reservoir fish community to aquatic vegetation removal. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 13:110-124.

Boschung, H.T. 1989. Atlas of fishes of the upper Tombigbee River drainage, Alabama-Mississippi. Proc. S.E. Fishes Council 19:1-104.

Cahn, A.R. 1927. An ecological study of southern Wisconsin fishes. The brook silversides (Labidesthes sicculus) and the cisco (Leucichthys artedi) in their relation to the regions. Illinois Biological Monographs 11(1):1-151.

Carlander, K.D. 1969. Handbook of Freshwater Fishery Biology. Volume 1. The Iowa State University Press, Ames. 752 pp.

Carveth, C.J., A. Widmer, S.C. Bonar, and W. Matter. 2004. Estimation of acute upper lethal water temperature tolerances of native Arizona fishes. Report submitted to the Water Resources Research Center, University of Arizona. 19 pp.

Cook. F.A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson. 239 pp.

Evans, J.W., and R.L. Noble. 1979. The longitudinal distribution of fishes in an east Texas stream. American Midland Naturalist 101(2):333-343.

Flemer, D.A. and W.S. Woolcott. 1966. Food habits and distribution of the fishes of Tuckahoe Crook, Virginia, with special emphasis on the bluegill, Lepomis m. macrochirus Rafinesque. Chesapeake Sci. 7(2): 75-89.

Fowler, H.W. 1917. Some notes on the breeding habits of local catfishes. Copeia 42:32-36.

Funk, J.L. 1955. Movement of stream fishes in Missouri. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 85:39-57.

Glodek, G.S.  1980.  Ictalurus natalis (Lesueur), Yellow bullhead.  pp. 442 in D. S. Lee, et al.  Atlas of North American Fishes.  N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Goldstein, R.M., and T.P. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes. pp. 123-202 in T.P. Simon, editor. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

Greenbank, J. 1956. Movement of fish under the ice. Copeia 1956(3):158-162.

Hildebrand S.F. and I.L. Towers. 1928. Annotated list of fishes collected in the vicinity of Greenwood, Mississippi, with descriptions of three new species. Bull. U.S. Bur. Fish. 43(2):105-136.

Hubbs, C. 1954. Corrected distributional records for Texas fresh-water fishes. Texas Journal of Science 1954(3):277-291.

Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards, and G.P. Garrett.  1991.  An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species.  The Texas Journal of Science, Supplement  43(4):1-56.

Jones, P.W., F.D. Martin, and J.D. Hardy, Jr. 1978. Development of Fishes of the Mid-Atlantic Bight, Volume I: Acipenseridae through Ictaluridae. Solomons, Maryland. 366 pp.

Kleinsasser, L.J., and G.W. Linam. 1987. Fisheries use attainability study for Pine Island Bayou (Segment 0607). River Studies Report No. 6. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 19 pp.

Knapp, F.T. 1953. Fishes Found in the Freshwaters of Texas. Ragland Studio and Litho Printing Co., Brunswick, Georgia. 166 pp.

Lesueur, C.A. 1819. Notice de quelques poissons découverts dans les lacs du Haut-Canada, durant l'été de 1816. Mem. Mus. Natl. Hist. Paris 5:148-161.

Linam, G.W., J.C. Henson, and M.A. Webb. 1994. Fisheries inventory and assessment of Allens Creek and the Brazos River, Austin County, Texas. River Studies Report No. 12. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 13 pp.

Linam, G.W., and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1987a. Fisheries use attainability study for Oyster Creek (Segment 1110). River Studies Report No. 3. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 13 pp.

Linam, G.W., and L.J. Kleinsasser. 1987b. Fisheries use attainability study for the Bosque River. River Studies Report No. 4. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin. 20 pp.

Matthews, W.J., S.S. Schorrs, and M.R. Meador. 1996. Effects of experimentally enhanced flows on fishes of a small Texas (U.S.A.) stream: assessing the impact of interbasin transfer. Freshwater Biology 35 :349-362.

Mayberry, L.F., A.G. Canaris, and J.R. Bristol. 2000. Bibliography of parasites and vertebrate host in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (1893-1984). University of Nebraska Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology Web Server pp. 1-100.

Reynolds, W.W., and M.E. Casterlin. 1977. Diel activity in the yellow bullhead. The Progressive Fish-Culturist 39(3):132-133.

Riggs, C.D., and E.W. Bonn. 1959. An annotated list of the fishes of Lake Texoma, Oklahoma and Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist 4(4):157-168.

Rose, D.R., and A.A. Echelle. 1981. Factor analysis of associations of fishes in Little River, central Texas, with an interdrainage comparision. American Midland Naturalist 106(2):379-391.


Ross, S.T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 624 pp.

Schoffman, R.J. 1955. Age and growth of the yellow bullhead in Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee. J. Tenn. Acad. Sci. 30:4-7.

Shoemaker, H H. 1952. Fish home area of Lake Myosotis, New York. Copeia 1952(2):83-87.

Simon, T.P. 1999. Assessment of Balon’s reproductive guilds with application to Midwestern North American Freshwater Fishes, pp. 97-121. In: Simon, T.L. (ed.). Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.

Simon, T.P., and R. Wallus. 2004. Reproductive Biology and Early Life History of Fishes in the Ohio River Drainage, Volume 3: Ictaluridae – Catfish and Madtoms. CRC Press, New York, New York. 204 pp.

Tin, H.T. 1982. Family Ictaluridae. pp. 436-457. In: N.A. Auer (ed.). 1982. Identification of larval fishes of the Great Lakes basin with emphasis on the Lake Michigan drainage. Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Ann Arbor, MI 48105. Special Publ. 82-3:744 pp.

Vessel, M.F., and S.Eddy. 1941. A preliminary study of the egg production of certain Minnesota fishes. Investigational report No. 26, Minnesota Department of OCnservation, Division of Game and Fish, Bureau of Fisheries. 20 pp.

Wallace, C.R. 1969. Acoustic, agonistic and reproductive behavior of three bullheads (Ictaluridae, Ictalurus). Ph.D. Thesis. University of Nebraska. 82 pp.

Wallace, C.R. 1972. Spawning behavior of Ictalurus natalis (LeSueur). Texas Journal of Science. 24:307-310.


Warren, M.L., Jr., B.M. Burr, S.J. Walsh, H.L. Bart, Jr., R.C. Cashner, D.A. Etnier, B.J. Freeman, B.R. Kuhajda, R.L. Mayden, H.W. Robison, S.T. Ross, and W.C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries 25(10):7-29.

Whittier, T.R., and R.M. Hughes. 1998. Evaluation of fish species tolerances to environmental stressors in lakes in the Northeastern United States. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 18:236-252.

Winemiller, K.O., S.Tarim, S. Shormann, and J.B. Cotner. 2000. Fish assemblage structure in relation to environmental variation among Brazos River oxbow lakes. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 129:451-468.

Zeug, S.C., K.O. Winemiller, and S. Tarim. 2005. Response of Brazos River oxbow fish assemblages to patterns of hydrologic connectivity and environmental variability. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 134:1389-1399.