Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)

Brown Bullhead

With its firm, pink flesh of excellent quality, the brown bullhead is an exceedingly popular species, sometimes included in the panfish category.


The head of the brown bullhead is large for its round and slender body, and the skin is smooth and entirely scaleless. The coloring of the brown bullhead is not always brown, but it may actually range from yellowish brown or chocolate brown to gray or olive with brown or black scattered spots; the belly is yellow or white.

The brown bullhead is distinguished from the yellow bullhead by having a mottled coloring and dark brown to nearly black chin barbels. There are sharp, toothlike serrations on the pectoral spine of the pectoral fin, and the tail is squarish or somewhat notched.


The average weight of the brown bullhead is less than a pound, and although fish in the 2- to 4-pound range are occasionally caught, this species seldom exceeds 3 pounds in weight. A 6-pound, 5-ounce fish is the largest ever caught on rod and reel. Brown bullhead can grow to 21 inches in length, although they are most commonly 8 to 14 inches long. Their life span is 6 or 7 years.

Spawning behavior

Spawning takes place in April and May. Nests are made by one or both sexes by fanning out dish-shaped hollows in mud or sand. The eggs are guarded by one or both parents, although some fish have been said to eat them. Young brown bullhead are jet-black and resemble tadpoles, forming large schools that swim in surface waters. The male continues to guard the young until they reach 2 inches in length and are able to protect themselves.

Food and feeding habits

Brown bullhead feed mainly at night on immature insects, worms, minnows, mollusks, crayfish, plankton, and offal.

Other Names

bullpout, horned pout, brown catfish, mudcat, common bullhead, marbled bullhead, squaretail, minister; French: barbotte brune.


Brown bullhead range from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Saskatchewan, from North Dakota to Louisiana in the west, and from Maine to Florida in the east. Native to the eastern United States and southern Canada, they have been widely introduced elsewhere.


Brown bullhead inhabit warm and even stagnant waters, as well as sluggish runs over muddy bottoms. They occur in farm ponds, pools, creeks, small to large rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Unlike other bullhead, they are found in large and deep waters, although they are able to withstand low oxygen concentrations and are known to bury themselves in mud to survive such conditions.