The Committee on Common and Scientific Names
of Fishes, has stressed the importance of accepting only one
common name for each fish and, in the case of the fish under
discussion, brown bullhead was the common name selected.
Other common names are catfish, mud cat and
mud pout. The scientific name is Ictalurus nebulosus.
In Canada, the brown bullhead ranges from the
Maritime Provinces to Manitoba. Introductions have been made in
areas outside its natural range, e.g., British Columbia.
In Ontario, it ranges northward to a line
between the Sault, Lake Nipissing and Mattawa. It was originally
native to the eastern United States and the Mississippi Valley
region but, by artificial propagation and distribution, it is
distributed in nearly every state of the union.
The body is moderately long and is heaviest
toward the head which is large and wide. The mouth is also large
and wide, with eight barbels.
An adipose fin is present. Each of the dorsal,
ventral and pectoral fins is provided with sharp spines. The
pectoral spines have long posterior serrations or barbs. Spines
are useful as protection against enemies. The fins are
membranous, nearly uniformly coloured and seldom jet black. The
caudal fin is square or slightly emarginate. The slippery,
scaleless skin is olive to dark brown in colour, with dark
the sides, fading to white or cream on the flat belly.
It is common in freshwater lakes, ponds and sluggish streams
with mud bottom and with or without plant life.
The brown bullhead travels in schools and uses its barbels or
whiskers in searching out food. lts eyes are small, and
visibility is therefore limited. Their nocturnal habits
contribute to their protection.
The brown bullheads spawn in spring, April to
June. Using their spiny tins, the male and female excavate
a slight depression, eight inches to one foot wide in shallow
water, about six inches deep, near aquatic weeds at the edge of
a bank or under a log or stump. Often, the fish use the mouths
of muskrat burrows or natural depressions.
eggs, which are amber in colour, are produced in gelatinous
masses, about three inches in diameter. Females 11 inches to 13
inches long produce 6,000 to 13,000 eggs.
Both parents guard the eggs during the
incubation period which is about eight to ten days. When the
baby fish are old enough to leave the nest, the parents
accompany them, one remaining in the immediate vicinity and the
other some distance away to watch for enemies. Guarding and
herding the young increases their chances of survival.
Food and Feeding
The brown bullhead is a bottom feeder. As noted previously, the
long sensory barbels on the chin assist them in locating their
food. Sensory organs are also located in the skin. In early
summer, the brown bullhead feeds on aquatic insect larvae, and
throughout the year on crayfish, molluscs, occasional fish and
plant material. Their defensive apparatus, the spinous processes
on the fins, are capable of inflicting painful wounds and, as a
result, they enjoy at least partial immunity.
Although they are largely nocturnal in their
feeding habits, they will feed in early morning and during the
day, when it is cloudy. They do not feed during the spawning
period but, if a baited hook is lowered into a spawning bed,
they will take it, presumably to remove it for protection.
The majority of bullheads weigh
less than a pound but they provide a valuable recreation for the
everyday fisherman and youngsters. No elaborate equipment and no
great amount of skill are necessary to catch them.