Ictalurus natalis
Yellow Bullhead

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The natural history of the northwoods



  • Ictalurus, from the Greek, "fish cat"
  • natalis, from the Latin, "having large buttocks"
  • Common name from the resemblance of the nostril whiskers to the horns of a bull. Yellow because it often, but not always, has a yellowish tint to it.
  • Other common names include: Brown Bullhead, White Whiskered Bullhead, Mississippi Bullhead, Butterball, Paper Skin, Yellow Catfish, barbotte jaune, silure jaune, pimelode des marais (Qué), pesce gatto (It).


  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Chordata, animals with a spinal chord
    • Subphylum Vertebrata, animals with a backbone
      • Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fishes
      • Class Actinopterygii, ray-finned and spiny rayed fishes
      • Subclass Neopterygii
      • Infraclass Teleostei
        • Superorder Ostariophysi
        • Order Siluriformes, the catfishes
          • Family Ictaluridae, North American freshwater catfishes; bullhead catfishes
            • Genus Ictalurus, the bullheads
  • Also known as Ameiurus natalis (Lesueur 1819)


  • A medium size member of the catfish family
  • Length to 16"
  • Weight as much as 2 pounds
  • Color
    • light olive brown to yellow above
    • white or cream belly
  • Body
    • anal fin of 24-27 rays, usually 25 or 26
    • spines at the pectoral fin and just ahead of the dorsal fin
    • tail convexly rounded
  • Head
    • broad and flat
    • white or cream colored barbels


  • Distinguished as a bullhead by its broad, flat, barbel strewn head.
  • Distinguished from the other bullheads by the color of its barbels:
    • Yellow Bullhead has white barbels
    • Black Bullhead (Ictalurus melas) has black or grey barbels
    • Brown Bullhead (Ictalurus nebulosus) has barbels light colored at the base, darkening to grey or black at the tips
  • Body color varies, and is not a reliable indicator of species


  • Atlantic and Gulf slope drainages from New York to northern Mexico, and St. Lawrence-Great Lakes and Mississippi river basins from southern Quebec west to central North Dakota, and south to the Gulf.
  • Authorities dispute the presence of the Yellow Bullhead in northern Minnesota. If present at all, it is likely quite rare.


  • Primarily lakes and ponds, occasionally the flowing waters of major rivers, man-made lakes, farm ponds, and oxbow lakes.
  • Tends to favor clear water
  • Prefers neutral pH (~7.0)


  • Nocturnal scavenger and predator, feeding on insect larvae on or in the bottom as well as on crustaceans, small mollusks, crayfish, and small fishes.
  • Somewhat more selective in feeding than the other bullhead species.


  • Minnesota Record: 3 lbs 8 oz, Osakis Lake (Douglas County).



  • Spawns in May and early June in water from 1½' to 4' 'deep.
  • Nests are constructed by the male.
  • The female deposits 2,000 to 7,000 eggs, which hatch in 5 to 10 days.
  • Fry are guarded by the parent fish until late July or August. They reach a length of about 3" at the end of the first year and mature in the third year.



Boreal border

Last updated on 13 November 1999