Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Brown Bullhead Catfish - Ameiurus nebulosus

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

Scientific name: Ameiurus nebulosus (Ameiurus = "unforked tail fin", nebulosus = "clouded")

Common names: brown bullhead, horned pout (in the Northeast)

brown bullhead

Species Overview

The brown bullhead is one of the four species of bullhead catfish found in Tennessee. They are well established in Douglas Reservoir, but are much less common than either black or yellow bullheads and have spotty distributions in the rest of the state. They are rarely found in streams and seem to prefer ponds, reservoirs, and lakes.

It has recently been discovered that brown bullheads develop external abnormalities as well as liver and skin cancers in the presence of elevated levels of certain chemical contaminants. It is one of the few fish species that has been used in cancer research and as biomonitors. Much of this research has been performed the Great Lakes area.

They are known for their delicious taste and have been commercially raised as a food fish.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from Chickamauga Reservoir in 1980 weighed almost 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.

Brown and black bullheads are very similar and easily confused. Both are separated from yellow bullheads and white catfish by not having white chin barbels. Unlike black bullheads, brown bullheads are usually mottled and do not having sharply contrasting fin pigmentation (see the black bullhead page).


brown bullhead 
Typical pigmentation of a Douglas Reservoir brown bullhead - photo by Jim Negus


Brown bullheads are widespread throughout both the eastern and central United States.

Young brown bullheads feed on small crustaceans and midge larvae while adults feed on a variety of aquatic insects, mollusks, and fish.

Life Cycle

They may nest in natural cavities or construct round, saucer-shaped depressions in the mud or sand. Both parents are involved with nest building and with caring for the eggs and small fry.


brown bullhead catfish 
Facial characteristics of a Douglas Reservoir brown bullhead catfish - photo by Jim Negus


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