SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ameiurus melas

CHARACTERISTICS: This stocky catfish has a rounded anal fin containing 17 to 23 rays. The upper jaw is slightly longer than the lower jaw, and chin barbels are black to dark gray. (Dark chin barbells easily separate the young of this species from young of the yellow bullhead, Ameiurus natalis, which always have yellow or white barbels.) Teeth on the dorsal and pectoral spines are poorly developed. The back is uniformly dark gray to black, grading to pale yellow or white on the venter. Fins are dusky and occasionally darkened along their margins.

ADULT SIZE: 10 to 12 in (254 to 300 mm)

DISTRIBUTION: Black bullheads are widespread but generally not abundant in the Mobile basin and Tennessee River drainage. They are rarely encountered in coastal drainages, the Choctawhatchee River being the eastern limit of their Gulf Coast range. The black bullhead has been introduced in several western states.

HABITAT AND BIOLOGY: Black bullheads inhabit low-gradient streams, backwaters, and swamps with little or no streamflow, silt and sand substrates, and dense accumulations of aquatic vegetation. Wallace (1967) records spawning from mid-May into July. Multiple spawns, usually completed with the male and female lying side by side but facing opposite directions, occur over a single nest. The female initially guards the nest but is soon replaced by the male. Campbell and Branson (1978) report schools of young feeding on ostracods and amphipods. Adults feed after dark and consume aquatic insect larvae, snails, and small fish. Etnier and Starnes (1993) encountered “well-fed” individuals near the sewage outfall of a meat processing plant in Tennessee. Carlander (1969) reports a life span of five to six years.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: Rafinesque described the black bullhead in 1820.

Ameiurus means unforked caudal fin.
Melas means black.

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