SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ictiobus niger

CHARACTERISTICS: Adult black and smallmouth buffalo are easy to distinguish, but the task is more confusing with small individuals. The mouth on the black buffalo is located just beneath the front end of the snout, and it is slightly oblique; the mouth on the smallmouth buffalo is located in a more posterior position, and it is nearly horizontal. Body depth of the black buffalo goes 2.8 or more times into its standard length; for the smallmouth, the factor is 2.7 or fewer times. The black buffalo’s nape region is rounded or only weakly keeled, and large breeding males develop a distinctive hump on the back near the dorsal fin origin. The lateral line contains 36 to 39 scales. The dorsal fin has from 27 to 31 soft rays. Overall body and fin color is dark gray or blue to bronze or olive.

ADULT SIZE: 20 to 34 in (508 to 863 mm)

DISTRIBUTION: Ichthyologists do not often encounter this species in Alabama because it is fairly uncommon and individuals are difficult to collect with standard sampling techniques. Tennessee Valley Authority biologists collected black buffalo at several stations in state waters from 1936 to 1941. Feeman (1987) notes individuals from the Elk River near Fayetteville, Tennessee. We collected black buffalo with electrofishing gear at seven stations in 1992 to 1993. Because most of the individuals had deep blue to black body colors, we suspect that they had entered Bear and Cypress creeks and the Flint and Paint Rock rivers to spawn. Black buffalo may eventually enter the upper Tombigbee River via the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

HABITAT AND BIOLOGY: The black buffalo inhabits the lower reaches of large streams, rivers, and reservoirs. Minckley et al. (1970) report that black buffalo feed on the Asian clam Corbicula, algae, and plankton. Our observations, which are supported by interviews with local anglers and commercial fishermen, indicate that spawning occurs in the shallow backwaters of major tributaries in April and May.

REMARKS: While sampling on the Tennessee River in August 1992, we met a commercial fisherman who referred to black buffalo as “blue rooters” because they turn blue during the spawning season and frequently kick up muddy plumes while rooting for food along the bottoms of shallow backwaters.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: Rafinesque described the black buffalo in 1819.

Ictiobus means bull fish.
Nigermeans black.

The copyrighted information above is from Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.