Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Black Bullhead Catfish - Ameiurus melas

(This page was last updated - 06/19/2007)

Scientific name: Ameiurus melas (Ameiurus = "unforked tail fin", melas = "black")

Common names: black bullhead

black bullhead catfish 

Species Overview

The black bullhead is one of the four species of bullhead catfish found in Tennessee. They are found in slow moving areas of streams and rivers and in ponds, reservoirs, and lakes throughout the state. They are most active during the night and seldom caught by anglers or collected by ichthyologists until after dusk.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from a Cannon County pond in 1997 weighed a little over 3 pounds.



The bullheads are separated from channel and blue catfish by their rounded or moderately forked tail fins. Bullheads may be confused with immature flathead catfish which are darkly colored and have rounded tail fins, but fewer anal fin rays.

Black and brown bullheads are very similar and easily confused. Both are separated from yellow bullheads and white catfish by not having white chin barbels. Black bullheads are separated from brown bullheads by never having mottled coloration and by having sharply contrasting fin pigmentation.


black bullhead fins 
Fin pigmentation characteristics of a black bullhead - photo by Jim Negus


Black bullheads are widespread throughout the central United States. They are most common in the Mississippi River drainages of West Tennessee and less common in the eastern part of the state.

Young black bullheads feed on small crustaceans while adults feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates, mollusks, and fish.

Life Cycle

Females use their fins and snout to excavate nests in mud bottoms or gravel substrate. Both males and females play a role in guarding the nest from predators after spawning.

The average life span is usually less than five years, but they may live more than ten years and perhaps reach up to 10 pounds.


 black bullhead
A typical black bullhead catfish - photo by Jim Negus


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