Yellow Bullhead, Butter Catfish, Gul Dværgmalle (Denmark), White Whiskered Bullhead, Yellow Belly Catfish - Ameiurus natalis (Lesueur, 1819)
Article © Heok Hee Ng, uploaded November 01, 2003.
Yellow bullheads are nothing to shout about. That is certainly what most people think, but there is an understated appeal about these fishes, despite being often overlooked by aquarists and recreational fishermen. Despite a somewhat shy and retiring nature, they have the potential to make interesting pets. Together with their tolerance of a wide range of water conditions (although not to the degree of black or brown bullheads), this makes them the ideal fish for beginners with a large tank.
The yellow, brown and black bullheads look very similar to each other, but the yellow bullhead is easily distinguished from the other two species by their yellow or white (vs. dusky or black) mandibular barbels clearly shown in the top most image.
Yellow bullheads are typically found in clear, highly vegetated areas, seeming to prefer streams to lakes. They can be relatively sedentary (a study conducted in a lake showed that tagged fish remained within 100 meters of their release point), and are not particularly long-lived (6-7 years). While they have the usual catfish characteristic of being not usually seen in the open, they are quick learners and will learn to cruise the tank if feeding times are regular.
One remarkable feature of the yellow bullhead is the ability to curtail their growth under less than optimal conditions. This means that they can adjust their growth rate according to the space available (stunted individuals regularly occur in small lakes where the population has been allowed to grow unchecked). While this is not something that should be advocated, this feature makes it much easier to house yellow bullheads in smaller tanks.
Dull in color? Maybe. Uninteresting aquarium fish? Certainly not.
Thanksgo again to Heok Hee Ng for this month's featured catfish.
Copyright information for the images used in this article can be found on the species' full Cat-eLog page.
|Cat-eLog Data Sheet|
|Scientific Name||Ameiurus natalis (Lesueur, 1819)|
|Common Names||Yellow Bullhead
Butter Catfish, Gul Dværgmalle (Denmark), White Whiskered Bullhead, Yellow Belly Catfish
|Type Locality||Uncertain locality.|
|Synonym(s)||Ictalurus natalis, Pimelodus natalis|
|Pronunciation||Ai MEE you russ - nay taal iss|
|Etymology||Ameiurus: ''curtailed'' refers to the lack of a deep notch in the caudal fin. The specific etymology is commonly written to derive from the Latin ''nates'' or buttocks, probably in reference to the enlarged cheek muscles of breeding males. Butt-cheek catfish would be an awesome common name but it is, tragically, incorrect. The species was introduced to science under the name Pimelodus natalis by French naturalist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur in 1819. Since Lesueur did not explain the meaning of natalis, American ichthyologist David Starr Jordan attempted to explain the name in several publications, including the seminal four-volume Fishes of North and Middle America (1896-1900). Jordan claimed that natalis means “having large nates, or buttocks.” This explanation on a misinterpretation of the Middle English natal, which, depending on its derivation, can mean two widely different things: buttocks or Christmas. Jordan applied the anatomical version of natal to the catfish’s name, apparently unaware that Lesueur included in his description a French cognate of Pimelodus natalis in the form of “Pimelode Noël.” In naming this catfish natalis, Lesueur was, in fact, honouring a French fisheries inspector whose name means Christmas: Simon-Barthélemy-Joseph Noël de La Morinière (1765–1822). This excellent etymological detective work and correction was published in Scharpf, C. (2020). Lost in translation: The true meaning of “natalis” in the name of the yellow bullhead Ameiurus natalis. American Currents, 45(2): 11-17.|
|Size||470mm or 18.5" SL. Find near, nearer or same sized spp.|
|Identification||The yellow, brown and black bullheads look very similar to each other, but the yellow bullhead is easily distinguished from the other two species by their yellow or white (vs. dusky or black) mandibular barbels.|
|Sexing||Males have an elongate genital papilla. Breeding males have greatly expanded head muscles.|
|Distribution||North America: 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. Trade restricted in Germany (Anl.3 BArtSchV). At least one country reports adverse ecological impact after introduction.
North American Atlantic Drainages (click on these areas to find other species found there)
Gulf Coast Drainages, Mississippi (click on these areas to find other species found there)
North American Atlantic Drainages, Great Lakes (click on these areas to find other species found there)
Gulf Coast Drainages (click on these areas to find other species found there)
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|IUCN Red List Category||Least Concern, range map and more is available on the IUCN species page. Last assessed 2011.|
|pH||6.0 - 8.0|
|Temperature||5.0-25.0°C or 41-77°F (Show species within this range)|
|Other Parameters||A hardy fish that can live in a wide variety of conditions. Able to withstand lower temperatures, so heating is not necessary. Can be maintained in outdoor ponds if winters are mild.|
|Feeding||In the wild, the yellow bullhead feeds on crustaceans, aquatic insects, worms, beetles and small fishes. Not a fussy feeder in captivity, taking both prepared and frozen food readily. Will eat smaller fishes if given the chance.|
|Furniture||Inhabits streams and lakes with sandy bottoms. Best maintained in an aquarium of 55 gallons or larger. Provide ample hiding places.|
|Compatibility||Peaceful both with other fish. Conspecifics may establish a dominance order based on size. Should not be kept with tankmates small enough to be eaten.|
|Suggested Tankmates||Larger North American native fishes like sunfish and yellow perch, given its propensity for eating smaller tankmates.|
|Breeding||Breeding occurs primarily in the late spring and early summer. Shallow nests are prepared by one or both parents, by fanning the pelvic, anal and caudal fins, shoving material out with their snout, or picking up material in their mouth and carrying them away from the nest. During spawning, the fish lie side by side, facing in opposite directions and twisting their caudal fins over the eyes and head of each other. About 650-7000 eggs are laid, with the eggs, which are yellowish and are about 2.5-3.0 mm in diameter, hatching in about 5-10 days. The male then guards the nest, fanning the egg mass, yawning widely over the nest, or even taking the egg mass into the mouth (possibly to aerate them). Upon hatching, the young cluster together in a mass at the bottom of the nest, and the adult fish may approach the mass and agitate it with their barbels; this apparently moves the larvae near the bottom of the mass to its surface. The fry are guarded until they reach about 25 mm TL.|
|Breeding Reports||There is no breeding report.|
|Reference||Mémoires du Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris v. 5, pp 154.|
|Registered Keepers||Keeping this species? Why not .
There are 26 registered keepers, view all "my cats" data.
|Wishlists||Love this species? Click the heart to add it to your wish list.
There is no wish to keep this species.
|Spotters||Spotted this species somewhere? Click the binoculars!
There are 3 records of this fish being seen, view them all.
|More on Ameiurus natalis|
|Look up Ameiurus natalis on AquaticRepublic.com|
|Look up Ameiurus natalis on Fishbase|
|Look up Ameiurus natalis on Encyclopedia of Life|
|Look up Ameiurus natalis on Global Biodiversity Information Facility|
|'||LFS label creator.|
|Last Update||2020 Oct 05 14:27 (species record created: 2003 Nov 01 11:22)|
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