Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)

Yellow Bullhead

Although the least commercially important of the catfish, the yellow bullhead can provide decent angling and is a good food fish.


A moderately slim fish, the yellow bullhead has leathery skin without scales. The coloring ranges from yellowish olive to brown or almost black on the back with yellowish olive or brown sides, yellow or white on the belly, and dusky fins. Juveniles are dark brown or jet-black.

The rounded tail helps to distinguish the yellow bullhead from other bullheads, which have squarish or truncated tails. The yellow bullhead has sharp, toothlike serrations on the back edge of the spine at the top of the pectoral fins. The chin barbels are white, yellow, or pale pink.


Yellow bullhead usually weigh less than a pound, although they sometimes reach a weight of 3 pounds. The most common length is between 7 and 11 inches, and they can be as much as 18.3 inches long. The world-record fish is a 4-pound, 4-ounce specimen. Yellow bullhead can live up to 7 years.

Spawning behavior

In May and June, sexually mature fish of 3 years and older move into shallow water at temperatures in the upper 60s or low 70s. After finding a suitable site, one or both of the parents constructs the nest, which consists of either a shallow depression in an open area or a 2-foot-deep burrow in the bank in a protected area. The male guards the eggs and the fry hatch in 5 to 10 days, after which the young continue to be protected by the male in a tight group until they are able to protect themselves.

Food and feeding habits

Yellow bullhead are nocturnal scavengers that feed by smell and taste. They eat crustaceans, immature aquatic insects, snails, small fish, dragonfly nymphs, crayfish, mollusks, and bits of aquatic vegetation.

Other Names

yellow cat, creek cat, white-whiskered bullhead, greaser.


Yellow bullhead inhabit most of central and eastern North America, ranging in the east from New York to Florida and in the west from southern Quebec to central North Dakota and south to the Gulf of Mexico. As with other bullhead, this fish has also been introduced outside its original range.


With a preference for clear waters, gravel or rock bottoms, sluggish currents, and heavy vegetation, yellow bullhead are found in pools, ponds, streams, small to large rivers, and small, shallow lakes. They are common in small, weedy, and shallow bodies of water and are more tolerant of polluted water and low oxygen levels than are most other types of bullhead. They are most abundant at water temperatures between 75° and 80°F.