Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus) - Native

34 cm brown bullhead.

The brown bullhead is Connecticut's only native catfish species (13-inch adult pictured).

Identification. Similar to black and yellow bullheads. Tail fin slightly rounded. Chin barbels dusky to black. Anal rays usually 22-23. Anterior anal rays longer than posterior rays. Serrations on posterior edge of pectoral spines moderate to strong. Typically dark brown, sometimes grayish on back, fading on sides to cream-colored on belly. Dark mottling typically present on sides, but may be difficult to see in fish that are dark overall.

21 cm brown bullhead.

Brown bullheads can be very dark or lighter like this 9-inch specimen.

Size. Commonly 8 to 13 inches. State survey max. size 16.5 inches. Conn. State Record 4.9 pounds, 20 inches. Max. reported size 21.6 inches. World Record 5.7 pounds.

Distribution. Widespread in the United States from the Mississippi drainage to the East Coast. Have also been introduced to areas of the West. Brown bullheads are found throughout Connecticut and may exist in any slow-flowing water body, where they are typically common in abundance.

Brown bullhead distribution map.

All maps created in 2009. See CT DEEP Fish Community Data for updated distributions.

Habits. Prefer quiet waters of lakes and ponds and backwaters of rivers and streams. They feed primarily at night and are typically associated with submerged vegetation and sandy to mud bottoms. They are very tolerant of poor water quality, high temperature and low oxygen conditions. Can readily be taken by angling at night with worms on the bottom.

Comments. The brown bullhead is Connecticut’s most widely distributed and only native catfish species. They are good to eat, but are typically underutilized by anglers because of their nocturnal habits.

Brown bullhead swimming in a tank.

This 3.5-inch juvenile brown bullhead has all the characteristics of an adult.


Text and images adapted from Jacobs, R. P., O'Donnell, E. B., and Connecticut DEEP. (2009). A Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut. Hartford, CT. Available for purchase at the DEEP Store.