Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Black Buffalo - Ictiobus niger

(This page was last updated - 06/11/2007)

Scientific name: Ictiobus niger (Ictiobus - Greek for "bull fish", niger = Latin for "black")

Common names: black buffalo, current buffalo, blue rooter, mongrel buffalo

 black buffalo
Breeding coloration on a Tellico Reservoir black buffalo - photo by Jim Negus

Species Overview

The black buffalo is one of three species of buffalo found in Tennessee. Although they are common in many of our rivers and reservoirs, few are caught by anglers and they have received little biological study.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from Cherokee Reservoir in 1984 weighed a little over 55 lbs.



They are very similar in appearance to smallmouth buffalo, but easy to distinguish from bigmouth buffalo. Bigmouth buffalo or "gourdheads" are rare in East Tennessee and do not have mouths designed for sucking on the bottom. Both smallmouth and black buffalo have sucker-like mouths with the tip of the upper lip below the lower rim of the eye.

Black buffalo are distinguished from smallmouth buffalo in having a body depth measurement that goes more than 2.9 times into their standard length. In other words, they are more streamlined and not as "high bodied" as smallmouth buffalo.

Their eye diameter is equal to or less than the distance from the fleshy posterior tip of the mouth to the fleshy anterior tip of the lower jaw. In other words, their eye appears smaller than that of a smallmouth buffalo.


  black buffalo
Common coloration on a Melton Hill Reservoir black buffalo - photo by Jim Negus


Black buffalo are found in the Mississippi River Basin and Southern Great Lakes. They are usually less common than other buffalo throughout their range, but appear to be more common than smallmouth and much more common than the rarely seen bigmouth buffalo in East Tennessee reservoirs.

Their diet consists of mostly invertebrates, mollusks, and some vegetation.


Life Cycle

Black buffalo spawn in early to mid spring and upstream migration has been observed. Spawning takes place in shallow water over various substrates. Their eggs are adhesive.

Maximum size is a bit difficult to determine due to difficulties with identification. They are assumed to reach 20-30 lbs. or larger.


  black buffalo
Facial characteristics of a Melton Hill Reservoir black buffalo - photo by Jim Negus


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