Ictiobus cyprinellus

bigmouth buffalo






Type Locality

Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes 1844).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name




Sclerognathus cyprinella Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes 1844:477.

Ictiobus cyprinella



Maximum size: 100 cm TL (Page and Burr 1991).




Counts: Fewer than 45 lateral line scales; 22-30 dorsal fin rays (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Mouth position: Mouth large and very oblique (Hubbs et al. 2008). Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Body shape: Eye closer to tip of snout than back of head; head gradually more slender than body; dorsal fin base more than one-third of standard length (Hubbs et al. 2008).


External morphology: Upper jaw as long as snout; upper lip about level with the lower margin of orbit; lips thin and faintly striate; subopercle broadest at middle, subsemicircular; cheek shallow and foreshortened (distance from eye to posteroventral angle of preopercle ¾ of distance to upper corner of the gill slit) (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Internal morphology: Intestine very long with at least 4 loops (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Ranges from the Great Lakes southward through the Ohio and Mississippi river basins (Hubbs et al. 2008). Lake Erie drainage south in Ohio and Mississippi drainages to northern Alabama, southern Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, west and north to Minnesota, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (Canada); introduced in Arizona and California (Lee and Shute 1980).


Texas distribution: Limited to the Red River east of Lake Texoma and the Sulphur River in the extreme northeast part of the state (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Currently Stable (Warren et al. 2000) in the southern United States.


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Common in shallows of large, sluggish rivers, oxbows, bayous, reservoirs, and lakes (Lee and Shute 1980).





Spawning season:


Spawning habitat: Spring flooding triggers spawning which occurs in shallow waters at temperatures of 15.5-18.3°C (Lee and Shute 1980).


Spawning behavior: Nonguarder; open substratum spawner; lithopelagophil – rock and gravel spawner with pelagic free embryos (Simon 1999). Embryos initially have an adhesive chorion that soon become buoyant eggs; free embryos are pelagic by positive buoyancy or active movement, free embryos have limited embryonic structures, and larvae are unconfirmed nonphotophobic (Balon 1981; Simon 1999).




Age at maturation




Growth and Population structure: 




Food habits: Invertivore; main food items for young fish include copepods, cladocerans, chironomid larvae, and diatoms; main food items for older fish include entomostracan, aquatic beetles, mollusks, and amphipods (Goldstein and Simon 1999). Species occupies feeding niche overlapping bottom and limnetic plankton feeders (Minckley et al. 1970).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Ictiobus cyprinellus hybridizes in nature with the closely related smallmouth buffalo (I. bubalus; Johnson and Minckley 1969); hybrids between I. cyprinellus and the black buffalo (I. niger) have been cultured (Stevenson 1964).


Host Records



Commercial or Environmental Importance




Balon, E.K. 1981. Additions and amendments to the classification of reproductive styles in fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 6(3/4):377-389.

Cuvier,G., and A. Valenciennes. 1844. Histoire Naturelle des Poissons. A. Asher and Company, Amsterdam 17:1-497.

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.

Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards, and G.P. Garrett. 2008. An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement, 2nd edition 43(4):1-87.

Johnson, R.P. 1963. Studies on the life history and ecology of the bigmouth buffalo, Ictiobus cyprinellus (Valenciennes). J. Fish. Res. Board Can. 20(6):1397-1429.

Johnson, D.W., and W.L. Minckley. 1969. Natural hybridization in buffalofishes, genus Ictiobus. Copeia 1969(1):198-200.

Lee, D.S., and J.R. Shute. 1980. Ictiobus cyprinellus (Valenciennes), Bigmouth buffalo. pp. 405 in D. S. Lee et al., Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Minckley, W.L., J.E. Johnson, J.N. Rinne, and S.E. Willoughby. 1970. Foods of buffalofishes, genus Ictiobus, in central Arizona reservoirs. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 99(2):333-342.


Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr.  1991.  A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico.  Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.

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.

Stevenson, J.H. 1964. Fish Farming Experimental Station - Stuttgart, Arkansas. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Circular [1963] 178:79-100.


Walburg, C. H. and W. R. Nelson (1966). Carp, river carpsucker, smallmouth buffalo, and bigmouth buffalo in Lewis and Clark Lake Missouri River. United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. 30 pp.


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.