Practising aquarists of the 1960s or even
still older have often kept in their childhood or youth one or more
catfish together with their goldfishes. This was often the way of
getting into aquaristics and this was also the same with me. Although
I am still a couple of years older than the 1960s period, I too
had fall in love with those black goblins at that time. And as this
is so, old loves never die. Also today I have kept again for a couple
of years now some Ameiurus nebulosus, the so called "Brown
The female above is fundamentally plumper and more
compact than the slimmer male.
Unfortunately, which species I kept in my youth does not
have to be stated any more. It was probably Ameiurus melas,
(Black Bullhead) but experienced catfish experts in these days could
hardly distinguish between the two species. A. melas is
a deep black as a juvenile while A. nebulosus is a more
charcoal-grey. With progressive age the animals then get more and
more greyish with earthy brownish nuances. The belly is bright,
often whitish to a plain or a cloudy grey colour. Many small white
spots often round off the colour phenotype. In my younger days these
catfish, with 15 up to 20 cm length, grew too big for me, so in
former times the usual aquarium size was just too small and the
price of large aquariums were too prohibitive. Today aquariums with
three or four hundred litres are definitely affordable so one can
now offer the catfish a sensible tank size.
Adolescent catfish, about 2 years old.
My two animals have achieved a size of 30 to 34 cm over the last
four years. In the last year they has been no more growth in the
length, at this time they got plump, higher and much sturdier,
they are looking really good now. The aquarium is not heated,
yes bullheads are cold water fish. Water temperatures can be between
18 to 25° nevertheless in the field of good airing and filtration
this does not cause the animals any problems. One should, however,
watch and provide cooling on time in summer. In the heat the good
old water change has still proved the best option. Aquarium heaters
are just too dirt-cheap against the utopian prices of good refrigeration
machines. The catfish tank is not illuminated either, what catfish
loves the glaring light?. A north window is about 1.50 metres
away and brings in sufficient light to the fish. The catfish ambiance
is filtered by the generous so called, Hamburg mat filter.
One often reads in the literature that this catfish does not like
a water flow but this does not disturb my two and the water is
always crystal clear. These catfishes do not dig in the aquarium
substrate as one knows from the Clarias species. The
aquarium contains the normal aquarium gravel of rough granulation
and some round stones but one should offer caves as a shelter
in every case. Deep seated or stuck stone plates are best suited
so that there is no slippage and the animals do not hurt themselves.
Male of about 8 cm of length.
As young fish all catfishes lie best of all in a cave, later in
old age they prefer individual accommodations. Some Vallisneria
gigantea in flowerpots round off the picture. Of course they
must be exchanged from time to time because of the lack of light.
A strong growing of algae on stones and other decorative material
does not look unnatural. Even algae of the species Florideophyceae
Nemaliales Rhodochorton can look decorative. There are algae
countries also in nature and whoever keeps bigger catfishes would
not like to have or get a Dutch planted tank.
My biggest specimen.
With food my fish are easily satisfied. They love food tablets,
green or brown with or without Spirulina. Great flakes also are
eaten and “Forelli”- pellets are taken gladly, however
one should feed them extremely thriftily because of the strong
pollution danger. The known red, black and white frozen mosquito
larvae are also taken with pleasure. Of course half a panel is
consumed fast for a meal there. With water-fleas and other little
food one does not make yourself popular with the animals. Earthworms,
self found are a delicacy for catfish, however, caution is advised
e.g. with bought worms again out of angler business's. Feeder
fish whether living or dead I do not offer A. nebulosus,
I have tried it with guppies once but tablets are apparently more
delicious anyway!. By the way I have had adolescent Ancistrus
species swim in the same tank without having being eaten by the
bullheads. For the aquarist who is interested in their cultivation,
it is said that reproduction is extremely rare even in the greatest
aquaria. Probably it seems to be important to have a quite cool
wintering period. Young catfishes are frequently offered in spring
as pond fish in garden centres and specialised dealers, use this
opportunity and you will be pleasantly surprised by the prices.
A couple shares a cave, a rare matter in old age.
But please do not keep bullheads in a garden pond, the animals
often die because of the voracious rivalry of food from the likes
of Koi-Carp and Goldfishes. If these catfish survive one can hardly
watch them since they live in the darkest corners of the pond.
These marvelous animals are kept much better in a spacious aquarium,
where one can watch them correctly. But do not buy too many animals,
consider the final size!
Fishing in the USA, A. punctatus, clearly recognised
by the split tail fin.
Bullheads natively come from North America where a lot different
species live. Some get quite big and are popular fishing-fish
in the states. Also I was lucky enough some years ago to fish
for bullheads in the USA. Ameiurus nebulosus becomes
about 40 cm in nature and in the past in the USA, bullheads had
to serve as a meal, often for slaves.
A. punctatus is even shown on T-shirts.
In Germany bullheads were imported approximately from the year
1900 and released into native waters. Even today in many areas
there are frequented. Fortunately bullheads never became the great
adventure for friends of fishing and in aquariums this species
is also much better than in the frying pan!. It’s a cheap
fish for individualists who are seeking the special and don’t
want fashion fish. At the acquisition one should at once prepare
for long standing care and keeping because catfishes are not fish
for one season.
Young fish are often offered as pond fish in masses in the
See also report in DATZ 11/04, pages 10:
“Bullheads are not so as told”
Copyright text and Photos: Reinhold Wawrzynski,
30655 Hannover/Germany, Schiffhornfeld 8