Other common names are catfish, mud cat and mud pout. The scientific name is Ictalurus nebulosus.
In Canada, the brown bullhead ranges from the Maritime Provinces to Manitoba. Introductions have been made in areas outside its natural range, e.g., British Columbia.
In Ontario, it ranges northward to a line between the Sault, Lake Nipissing and Mattawa. It was originally native to the eastern United States and the Mississippi Valley region but, by artificial propagation and distribution, it is now widely
distributed in nearly every state of the union.
The body is moderately long and is heaviest toward the head which is large and wide. The mouth is also large and wide, with eight barbels.
An adipose fin is present. Each of the dorsal, ventral and pectoral fins is provided with sharp spines.
The pectoral spines have long posterior serrations or barbs. Spines are useful as protection against enemies.
The fins are membranous, nearly uniformly coloured and seldom jet black.
The caudal fin is square or slightly emarginate.
The slippery, scaleless skin is olive to dark brown in colour, with dark mottlings on the sides, fading to white or cream on the flat belly.
Where it’s found:
- Throughout southern Ontario;
- Generally south of Highways 11 & 17 in the North.
- Slow, warmer waters.
- It is common in freshwater lakes, ponds and sluggish streams with mud bottom and with or without plant life.
The brown bullhead travels in schools and uses its barbels or whiskers in searching out food. lts eyes are small, and visibility is therefore limited. Their nocturnal habits contribute to their protection.
The brown bullheads spawn in spring, April to June. Using their spiny tins, the male and female excavate a slight depression, eight inches to one foot wide in shallow water, about six inches deep, near aquatic weeds at the edge of a bank or under a log or stump. Often, the fish use the mouths of muskrat burrows or natural depressions.
The eggs, which are amber in colour, are produced in gelatinous masses, about three inches in diameter. Females 11 inches to 13 inches long produce 6,000 to 13,000 eggs.
Both parents guard the eggs during the incubation period which is about eight to ten days. When the baby fish are old enough to leave the nest, the parents accompany them, one remaining in the immediate vicinity and the other some distance away to watch for enemies. Guarding and herding the young increases their chances of survival.
Food and Feeding:
The brown bullhead is a bottom feeder. As noted previously, the long sensory barbels on the chin assist them in locating their food. Sensory organs are also located in the skin. In early summer, the brown bullhead feeds on aquatic insect larvae, and throughout the year on crayfish, molluscs, occasional fish and plant material. Their defensive apparatus, the spinous processes on the fins, are capable of inflicting painful wounds and, as a result, they enjoy at least partial immunity.
Although they are largely nocturnal in their feeding habits, they will feed in early morning and during the day, when it is cloudy. They do not feed during the spawning period but, if a baited hook is lowered into a spawning bed, they will take it, presumably to remove it for protection.
Length: 20-36 centimeters (8-14 inches).
The majority of bullheads weigh less than a pound but they provide a valuable recreation for the everyday fisherman and youngsters.
No elaborate equipment and no great amount of skill are necessary to catch them.
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