Black Bullhead
  • Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Top view adult.
  • Bottom view adult.
  • Head-on view adult.
  • Close-up flank.
  • Close-up head.
  • Close-up mouth and snout.
  • Close-up tail.
  • Close-up dorsal fin.
  • Close-up anal fin.
  • Close-up pectoral fin: Membrane separated from spine for top pectoral fin.
  • Close-up pelvic fin.
  • Close-up of gill rakers: There are 15-21 (usually 17-19) gill rakers.
  • Close-up head: Notice the dark chin barbels; the upper jaw is slightly longer than the lower.
  • The sides display a solid color and a faint pale yellow bar at the base of the tail. There is a free adipose fin and a round/slightly forked tail.
  • Close-up anal fin: There are 15-21 rays, including rudimentaries.
  • Close-up pectoral fin: There is a lack of saw-like barbs; membrane is separated from the spine for the top pectoral fin.
  • Close-up inside of mouth: Notice the absence of horn-like backward lateral extensions from the tooth patch on the roof of the mouth.
  • Side view: Young-of-year are similar to adults.
  • Side view: Young-of-year are similar to adults.
  • Bottom view: Young-of-year are similar to adults.
  • Alternative side view.
  • Alternative view of caudal region.
  • Alternative view of bottom of head.
  • Comparison black bullhead (top) and brown bullhead (bottom): Both show similarities in appearance. Both are of solid color, but the black bullhead is darker and more yellow on the bottom.
DescriptionSimilar Species
Bullhead Catfishes (Ictaluridae)
Mouth and snout: Slightly subterminal or terminal, patches of numerous fine teeth on jaws. 8 obvious barbels (4 pairs; 2 pair on chin, 1 pair on side of upper jaw (near corner of mouth), 1 pair on top of snout). Body patterning, color, and scales: Solid color predominates, but may be somewhat mottled on lower flanks. Body usually black, dark brown, or dark olive, with a white or yellow belly and a faint pale white or yellow vertical bar at the base of the tail. Fins darkly pigmented. No scales. Body shape and size: Body dorsal-ventrally flattened with a rounded head; in cross section approximately oval (with a long horizontal axis) to round with a flattened ventral surface. Typically 150-250 mm (6-10 in) TL; maximum in Wisconsin about 325 mm (13 in).
Tail, dorsal and other fins: Rounded, square, or slightly forked (shallow notch) tail. Single dorsal with 1 stout spine and 5-6 rays, attached by membrane. Pelvic fins abdominal. Adipose fin present. Anal fin with 15-21 rays (including rudimentary rays).
Distinguishing Characteristics
The black bullhead can be distinguished by its “free”, flaplike adipose fin, by its square or rounded or very slightly forked tail, by having its upper jaw extend slightly beyond the lower, by not having the tooth patch in the roof of their upper jaw with lateral backward extensions, and by having its anal fin base longer than their post-orbital distance. They also have obvious barbels. See also similar species information.
Breeding Adults
Similar to non-breeders, although white or yellow belly may be especially bright.
Similar to adults, although color tends to be jet black.
Black bullhead X Brown bullhead reported from Wisconsin.
Compare Similar Species
Anal Fin Rays
Bullhead, Black15-21
Bullhead, Brown21-24
Bullhead, Yellow24-27
Color Pattern
Bullhead, BlackMainly solid and dark, with white or yellow belly; faint pale yellow vertical bar at base of tail
Bullhead, BrownUsually mottled, but may be solid, generally yellow brown or gayish, belly usually cream or tan; no bar at base of tail
Bullhead, YellowMainly solid, black to yellowish brown; belly white or yellow; no bar at base of tail
Pelvic Spine
Bullhead, BlackEdge rough or with irregular small barbs
Bullhead, BrownEdge with regular saw-like barbs
Bullhead, YellowEdge with regular saw-like barbs
Chin Barbels
Bullhead, BlackDark gray, brown or black
Bullhead, BrownBlack to yellowish brown
Bullhead, YellowWhitish or light gray
Gill Rakers, 1st Arch
Bullhead, Black15-21, usually 17-19
Bullhead, Brown12-16, usually 13-15
Bullhead, Yellow12-18, usually 13-16
Similarity Index
Bullhead, BlackN/A
Bullhead, BrownVery similar
Bullhead, YellowVery similar