Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus)

Bigmouth Buffalo
Bigmouth Buffalo

A member of the Catostomidae family of suckers, the bigmouth buffalo is so called because of its humped back.


The robust and deep-bodied bigmouth buffalo has a large head with a big, distinctively oblique, and toothless mouth. This terminal, thin-lipped cavity angles downward when closed, although the edge of the upper lip is practically on a level with the eyes.

The sickle-shaped dorsal fin is characterized by a taller lobe at the middle of the back that tapers off into a shorter lobe; the whole fin extends to the caudal peduncle. It is the only member of the sucker family with its mouth directly in the front of the head.

The color of the bigmouth buffalo may be gray, coppery olive brown, or slate blue on the back, and the sides are yellowish olive, fading to a white belly; all the fins are blackish in tint.


The largest of all the suckers, the bigmouth buffalo is said to grow to 80 pounds, although the all-tackle rod-and-reel record is a 70-pound, 5-ounce fish. It typically weighs between 3 and 12 pounds, and it has been known to grow as long as 40 inches. Most fish will live only 6 to 8 years and grow to 20 pounds.

Life history/Behavior

Adults spawn at about 3 years of age, in April or May, when water temperatures reach the 60° to 65°F range. Adults seek weedy areas in 2 to 3 feet of water to lay their eggs, which hatch in 10 to 14 days. They travel in schools throughout their lives and are capable of tolerating temperatures of up to 90°F in waters with little dissolved oxygen.

Food and feeding habits

Roughly 90 percent of the food a bigmouth buffalo eats consists of small crustaceans.

Other Names

buffalofish, common buffalo, lake buffalo, slough buffalo, blue buffalo, baldpate, bull-nosed buffalo, brown buffalo, stubnose, pug.


Found only in North America, bigmouth buffalo occur in the Nelson River drainage of Hudson Bay, the lower Great Lakes, and the drainages of Lake Erie and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, from Ontario to Saskatchewan and Montana south to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. They have also been introduced in Arizona, California, and Cuba with success.


Bigmouth buffalo have a preference for pools and backwaters of small to large rivers and are found in lakes and impoundments.