Catfish of the Month Right Arrow November 2003 • Article © Heok Hee Ng, uploaded November 01, 2003

Yellow Bullhead, Butter Catfish, Gul Dværgmalle (Denmark), White Whiskered Bullhead, Yellow Belly Catfish - Ameiurus natalis   (Lesueur, 1819)

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.

Jump to next section Cat-eLog Data Sheet
Scientific NameAmeiurus natalis  (Lesueur, 1819)
Common NamesYellow Bullhead
Butter Catfish, Gul Dværgmalle (Denmark), White Whiskered Bullhead, Yellow Belly Catfish
Type LocalityUpper Canada.
Synonym(s)Ictalurus natalis, Pimelodus natalis
PronunciationAi MEE you russ - nay taal iss
EtymologyAmeiurus: ''curtailed'' refers to the lack of a deep notch in the caudal fin. The specific etymology comes from the Latin ''nates'' or buttocks, probably in reference to the enlarged cheek muscles of breeding males.
Jump to next section Species Information
Size 420mm or 16.5" SL. Find near, nearer or same sized spp.
IdentificationThe 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.
SexingMales have an elongate genital papilla. Breeding males have greatly expanded head muscles.
Jump to next section Habitat Information
DistributionNorth America: native to 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. Widely introduced outside native range.
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)
Show it on a map (Click the map-icon to show/hide map of species distribution)
IUCN Red List StatusLeast Concern
pH6.0 - 8.0
Temperature5.0-25.0°C or 41-77°F (Show species within this range)
Other ParametersA 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.
Jump to next section Husbandry Information
FeedingIn 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.
FurnitureInhabits streams and lakes with sandy bottoms. Best maintained in an aquarium of 55 gallons or larger. Provide ample hiding places.
CompatibilityPeaceful 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 TankmatesLarger North American native fishes like sunfish and yellow perch, given its propensity for eating smaller tankmates.
BreedingBreeding 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.
Jump to next section Further Information
ReferencesMem. Mus. Natl. Hist. Nat.v. 5 - pp154
A Field Guide To Freshwater Fishes North America
North American Native Fishes for the Home Aquarium
American Aquarium Fishes
Registered Keepers(1) DeepFriedIctalurus, (2) Silurus, (3) Demon_fish, (4) neolamp, (5) Belial, who also notes: "my favorite type of catfish hooray", (6) orspearo666, who also notes: "wild caught specimen. eats well and is growing very fast", (7) fishlvr, (8) bapachu (p: 2), (9) EMax, (10) Timberwolf, (11) jpac716, (12) AvengedKombat, (13) tbinchrist, (14) in_the_seance, (15) Divemaster, (16) Brad Pleco Addict, (17) mday, (18) telsonboy, who also notes: "Was quite surprised to discover this was a yellow bullhead! Not very common in the area. Naturally, grew quite rapidly, inhaled several Gambusia affinis, Fundulus kansae, and one CAE. Was in a 25-gal tank with two turtles, did fine with them and helped keep the tank clean, along with 2 I. punctatus. Gave all three cats to a friend, after which they quickly developed ich and did not recover =(", (19) cowturtle, (20) TerriV, who also notes: "Gently takes LG pellets from my fingers! :-)", (21) slayer5590, (22) juanitoman, (23) Blackbullhead, (24) Hardmancatfish, (25) Nativeguy, who also notes: "Wild caught juvenile, eating frozen food 3 day s later".

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Breeding ReportsNone.
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Last Update2013 Jul 19 00:08 (species record created: 2003 Nov 01 11:22)

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