Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Bigmouth Buffalo - Ictiobus cyprinellus

(This page was last updated - 10/15/2007)

Scientific name: Ictiobus cyprinellus (Ictiobus - Greek for "bull fish", cyprinellus = Latin for "carp")

Common names: bigmouth buffalo, gourdhead, redmouth buffalo

 bigmouth buffalo
A small Mississippi River bigmouth buffalo - photo by Jim Negus

Species Overview

The bigmouth buffalo is a popular food fish and the largest of the three species of buffalo found in Tennessee. They are abundant in the Mississippi River, but rarely encountered in East Tennessee. They support a large commercial gill net fishery throughout the lower Mississippi River valley.

Bigmouth buffalo are excellent candidates for polyculture in catfish ponds and their production may now be economically feasible since there is an increasing demand for buffalo in the Asian and African American markets while the commercial harvest is declining.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from Percy Priest Reservoir in 2001 weighed over 52 lbs.


Bigmouth Buffalo
Facial characteristics of a bigmouth buffalo - photo by Jim Negus


Bigmouth buffalo or "gourdheads" are easy to distinguish from black and smallmouth buffalo. They are rare in East Tennessee and do not have mouths designed for sucking on the bottom. Their mouths are terminal and not sucker-like with the tip of the upper lip located above the lower rim of the eye.


Bigmouth buffalo


Bigmouth are restricted to the Mississippi River Basin, Southern Great Lakes, and the Hudson Bay drainage. They are common in the Mississippi River, but much less abundant in the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems.

Their diet consists of mostly zooplankton, midge larvae, crustaceans, algae, and diatoms.


Bigmouth Buffalo
An emaciated Mississippi River bigmouth buffalo - photo by Jim Negus

Life Cycle

Bigmouth spawn in early to mid spring when water temperatures reach 60-65 F. They enter flooded fields and spawn in a similar manner as common carp. Their eggs are adhesive.

There are reports of bigmouth up to 80 pounds. The world angling record 70 lb. 5 oz. was taken in Louisiana.


Etnier, D. and W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press.

Southern Regional Aquaculture Center. 2000. Species Profile Bigmouth Buffalo pdf