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Ameiurus natalis  LeSuer, 1819  

he 'Yellow Bullhead' is in the middle range of growth compared to A. melas and the larger A. nebulosus. I  have not personally come across this species in the past years in the U.K. when imports of melas and nebulosus where common place. Now of course species of the Bullhead family are very hard to get owing to restrictions on their import (*see below).

Ameiurus natalis


The 'Yellow Bullhead' closely resembles the 'Black Bullhead' ( A. melas) but the difference's are, A. natalis has a brown to yellow colour on top with a yellowish underbelly while A. melas has a somewhat darker colour on top and a white belly and seems to have a somewhat more deeper body than the 'Yellow Bullhead'. The main criteria for me are the colour of the barbels on these two species. A. melas has black to dusky barbels while A. natalis has the two pair of mandibular barbels, on the bottom of its chin, white/yellow, and the rest black.

The family Ictaluridae have of course 4 pairs of barbels, one pair of maxillary, 2 pair of mandibular ( outer and inner) and one pair of nasal barbels (on top of the snout). This is a good indicator to the origin of any catfish bought as this differentiates from the South American cats who have 3 pairs of barbels. The only problem of course is with Asian catfish who in the main also have 4 pairs.

Amierurus natalis seems to favour clearer waters and clean substrates compared to the afore mentioned melas, and its population has deteriorated over the last 40 to 50 years due to the destruction of its habitats. It is of course favoured as a sport and food fish in the U.S. I have reproduced here an e-mail that was sent to me by Barry Mitchell in Hawaii who grew up in Tennessee and had first hand knowledge of this species.

<"They inhabit virtually every farm pond which has not been specifically stocked with channel catfish. They are considered to be worthless by most people, since they are about 1/3 head and dress out to nothing. I've seen them thrive in the worst possible environments, even in ditches that went nearly dry during August. In overcrowded ponds they mature at only a few inches in length. I once placed three of these stunted fish in a deep but leaky pond. I did this in March. In August when the pond was reduced to a six inch deep puddle the three fish were approximately one pound and there were hundreds of little ones”>

There are of course a few aquarists in the U.K. who are coldwater cat enthusiasts but they are getting few and far between due to to the import restrictions on this family of cats. There is now moves afoot by the Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAAF) to impose restrictions on some coldwater species like the above mentioned Bullhead Catfish, due to the dangers of introduction to native waters and the threat to its occupants through disease and predation. In other words you could be paying up to £30 for a license to keep them. In the future due to the exporters having to implement new guidelines on matters such as health records for each fish, they could become quite rare in the U.K.

Update: As of November 1998 in the U.K.you must have a licence to keep the above species. This licence is now issued free, but does take a few months to process. For more information log on to the DEFRA site.

Acknowledgements: Barry Mitchell for his input to this factsheet.



Anal fin of 24-27 rays, usually 25 or 26 spines at the pectoral fin and just ahead of the dorsal fin. Tail convexly rounded. Head broad and flat.

Light olive brown to yellow above. White or cream belly. White or cream coloured barbels.

As an aquarium fish it would of course have to be housed in a somewhat large tank with good external filtration, without a heater, as this fish is deemed a coldwater cat and as such has a wide temperature range. Companions in this tank would be very hard to substantiate as any other fish would be viewed as lunch!.

Spawning takes place in May and early June. Nests are constructed by the male and the female lays 2,000 to 5,000 eggs. The eggs hatch in 5 to 10 days and the resulting fry are protected by both parents until late summer.

In the aquarium adults will eat just about everything, pellet food, tablet food, frozen bloodworm, earthworms, shrimps and prawns. In the wild they feed on minnows, snails, shrimp, crayfish and insect larvae.

Ameiurus: A reference to the tail.

Knopf, The Audubon Society Field guide to North America Fishes, Whales & Dolphins, 1986.
Fishes of Ohio's State Scenic Rivers.
Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Photo Credits
Ohio Division of Natural Areas & Preserves



Factsheet 043

Ictalurus natalis.  
Common Name:
Yellow Bullhead, Butter Cat, Yellow Cat, Pollywog, Mudcat.
North America: Atlantic and Gulf slope drainages from New York to northern  Mexico, and St. Lawrence-Great Lakes and Mississippi river basins from southern  Quebec west to central North Dakota, and south to the Gulf
46cm. (16½ins)
08-30°C (45-87°F)    
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                                                                                                                                        Factsheet 43= updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018 Go to Top