The North American Catfish ID Guide
by Mark Aldridge


his is a guide on identification for the Ameiurus, Ictalurus and the monotypic genus Pylodictis found throughout the North American continent.

AMEIURUS

 

Ameiurus brunneus

Ameiurus brunneus

Snail Bullhead. Black blotch at dorsal fin base. Can be mottled, short, rounded anal fin. Relatively large eye.

 

Ameiurus brunneus (mottled version)

Ameiurus brunneus (mottled version)

Snail Bullhead. Mottled version, Eno River, NC. It can be confusing when you find populations like this, but understanding range maps and the fact that Spotted Bullheads (Ameiurus serracanthus) are hundreds of miles away will help. Short, rounded anal fin, around 19 anal fin rays. Relatively large eye. Black blotch at dorsal fin base.

 

Ameiurus catus

Ameiurus catus

White Catfish. I see this misidentified the most out of all Catfish in North America. Key: Moderately forked caudal fin with short, rounded anal fin. No spots as in most juvenile Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus). The largest of the "Bullheads", White Catfish are in the Genus Ameiurus along with the Black, Yellow, Brown, Flat, Snail and Spotted Bullheads.

 

Ameiurus melas

Ameiurus melas

Black Bullhead. Black chin barbels (lower 4), sometimes a white crescent marked shape on base of caudal fin. Rounded caudal fin. Dark pigment between the fin rays is also useful, not always, but it's a good supplemental ID character (Zach Alley 2021).

 

Ameiurus natalis

Ameiurus natalis

Yellow Bullhead. White or yellow chin barbels, smaller eye than other Bullheads. Sometimes yellow in appearance, normally on the flanks or belly.

 

Ameiurus nebulosus

Ameiurus nebulosus

Brown Bullhead. More of a brown appearance but can vary greatly due to water conditions. Brown chin barbels, sometimes mottled. Caudal fin squared. Larger eye than the Yellow Bullhead.

 

Ameiurus platycephalus

Ameiurus platycephalus

Flat Bullhead. One of the trio of Bullheads that are easily identified by a black blotch at the base of the dorsal fin. Only Flat, Snail and Spotted Bullheads have this black blotch. Mottled appearance in some populations, flat head (not always on larger individuals). Most often confused with the Snail Bullhead (Ameiurus brunneus), Flat Bullhead's however will have a slightly longer anal fin with more rays. The anal fin is also more squared off than the Snail Bullhead's rounded anal fin

 

Ameiurus serracanthus

Ameiurus serracanthus

Spotted Bullhead. Small range (FL, GA, AL), black blotch at dorsal fin base, spotted body, very short anal fin, rounded.

 

 

ICTULARUS

 

Ictalurus furcatus (adult)

Blue Catfish. Can grow quite large. Blue appearance, barber like comb-anal fin, straight edged. Moderately to deeply forked caudal fin.

 

Ictalurus furcatus (juvenile)

Blue Catfish. Juvenile - Blue appearence normally, barber like "comb" anal fin, straight edged and not rounded. Moderately to deeply forked caudal fin.

 

Ictalurus punctatus

Ictalurus punctatus

Channel Catfish. Notice the deeply forked tail and a more rounded than straight edged anal fin. Spots are not always present on Channel Catfish, even in juveniles.

 

PYLODICTIS

Pylodictis olivaris (adult)

Pylodictis olivaris (adult)

Flathead Catfish. Lower jaw sticks out beyond upper jaw. Flattened head. Rounded caudal fin or slightly notched.

 

Pylodictis olivaris (juvenile)

Flathead Catfish. Juvenile: White colored upper lobe on caudal fin, mottled appearance as juveniles. Lower jaw projecting beyond upper lip in larger specimens.

 

 

Photo Credits

Tim Aldridge except the following
Ameiurus nebulosus: © Reinhold Wawrzynski @ Catfish and more
Ictalurus furcatus
(adult)
© Tennessee Aquarium

 

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