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Ameiurus melas  Rafinesque, 1820  

he 'Black Bullhead' grows to the same size in the aquarium as Ameiurus nebulosus, the 'Brown Bullhead'.

In the early days of my fishkeeping they were abundant in coldwater sections of the aquatic shops, small specimens in amongst Goldfish!  I lost count of the times I was contacted, to be asked if I would take a large Bullhead which had eaten or was about to eat their Goldfish, but they are not so common now in the U.K. shops.

Ameiurus melas

A good fish to house on its own in your fishhouse/room, to take culled and deformed fishes (but not diseased.) As I recall I had to house two in the same tank and one killed the other during the night! ( you live and learn.)

One thing they do have in common with catfish from the Asian continent is that they possess 4 pairs of barbels ( chin barbels grey-black or spotted) unlike the catfish forms of South America who in the whole have three pairs. This can be a good way to identify your catfish if you are not too sure from where it originates from.

Ameiurus melas = juvenile

There is now moves afoot by the U.K. Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAAF) to impose restrictions on some coldwater species like the above mentioned Black Bullhead, 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.

: 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.

Dorsal 1/6; Anal 17-21; Pectorals; 1/8. Ventrals 8; Hind edge of pectoral spine rough, but without serrations. Caudal peduncle short, moderately deep, caudal fin emarginate. Head large, rounded above; eyes small; mouth terminal, short, wide. Adipose fin present.

Colouration variable:upperside greenish, yellowish, brownish or slaty-olive, sides lighter, underside bright yellow, yellow or milk-white. Fins normally conspicuously darker than the adjacent parts of the body. Anal base pale, distal two-thirds between the rays black; in young fishes less than 10cm. in length the entire fins may be black.

The North American ' Black Bullhead' adapts well to aquarium conditions but do bare in mind that it does grow big along with the capable size of its mouth! so if housing with other temperate fish you would be better going for larger stock such as yellow perch or the larger sunfishes. Putting them in with goldfish is not a good idea, not for the poor goldfish anyway!. They adapt well to most aquarium conditions as long as you give them a cave of some sort and to keep the lighting down to a minimum for viewing purposes.

In its natural habitat in early spring the females lays its eggs in the substrate and one or both parents guards them, the eggs can number into the thousands. The resulting fry are protected by both parents. Difficult to distinguish between sexes but the female is noticeably fuller in the breeding season.

Adults eat just about everything, pellet food, tablet food, frozen bloodworm, earthworms, shrimps and prawns.

Ameiurus: A reference to the tail.
melas: Black

Schleser, David M. North American Fishes for the Home Aquarium
The Audubon Society, Field guide to North American Fishes, Whales & Dolphins

Photo Credits
Top picture:       Allan James @ ScotCat
Bottom picture: David Proudfit 

Factsheet 005

Silurus melas, Ictalurus melas 
Common Name:
Black Bullhead
North America: Great Lakes in Canada and U.S.A. to northern Mexico
40cm. (16ins)
08-30°C (45-87°F)    
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                                                                                                         Factsheet 5 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top