Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Yellow Bullhead Catfish - Ameiurus natalis

(This page was last updated - 07/12/2007)

Scientific name: Ameiurus natailis (Ameiurus = "unforked tail fin", natalis = "large buttocks")

Common names: yellow bullhead, horned pout (in the Northeast), butterball, paperskin

yellow bullhead catfish 

Species Overview

The yellow bullhead is one of the four species of bullhead catfish found in Tennessee. They are most often found in slow moving areas of streams and rivers, but may inhabit any water throughout the state. They are most active during the night.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from Chickamauga Reservoir in 1979 weighed over 4 pounds.


yellow bullhead
A Pigeon River yellow bullhead - photo by Bart Carter


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.

The common yellow bullhead and the rare white catfish (which, in Tennessee, only occurs in the French Broad River drainage) usually have white chin barbels. Black and brown bullheads are very similar and easily confused with yellow bullheads that do not have typical chin barbel pigmentation. Yellow bullheads have more anal fin rays than both black and brown bullheads and do not have the moderately forked tail of a white catfish.


 yellow bullhead barbels
Chin barbel pigmentation characteristics of a yellow bullhead - photo by Bart Carter


Yellow bullheads are common throughout Tennessee and widespread in the eastern and central United States.

Young feed on small crustaceans while adults feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates, mollusks, and fish. They typically feed at night and will consume both live and dead plant and animal matter.


yellow bullhead
An nontypical yellow bullhead - photo by Jim Negus

Life Cycle

Both sexes use their fins and snouts to excavate nests in mud bottoms or gravel substrate. Males guard the nest from predators and care for the young fry.

They have a life span of at least seven years and may grow to five pounds.


 yellow bullhead
A typical yellow bullhead catfish - photo by Bart Carter


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