American Oceans

What’s the Difference Between Bullhead and Catfish?

Bullhead and catfish are two distinct fish species that belong to the same order, Siluriformes.

a bullhead catfish swimming underwater

They share some similarities in their physical features, habitat, and dietary habits, but also have some notable differences.

Despite their similarities, bullhead and catfish have different habitat preferences and distributions.

Bullhead is typically found in slow-moving or still waters, such as ponds, lakes, and streams, while catfish prefers faster-moving waters, such as rivers and streams.

Bullhead is native to North America, while catfish is found in many parts of the world, including North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.

Key Takeaways

  • Bullhead and catfish are two distinct fish species that share some similarities in their physical features, habitat, and dietary habits.
  • Bullhead is generally smaller and has a more rounded body shape, while catfish is longer and more slender with a forked tail.
  • Bullhead prefers slow-moving or still waters, while catfish prefers faster-moving waters and is found in many parts of the world.

Bullhead vs Catfish

a channel catfish isolated on a black background

Bullhead is a common name for several species of freshwater fish in the genus Ameiurus. The three most common species are yellow bullhead, black bullhead, and brown bullhead.

These fish are small to medium-sized and typically weigh between 1-2 pounds. They can be found in muddy waters, ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams throughout North America.

Bullheads are omnivorous and feed on a variety of food sources, including insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and small fish.

They have square tails and spiny fins, and are characterized by their barbels, which are sensory organs used to detect food and navigate in murky waters. Bullheads have a lifespan of up to 10 years and are non-migratory, meaning they do not travel long distances.

Catfish Overview

Catfish is a common name for several species of freshwater fish in the family Ictaluridae. The three most common species are channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish.

These fish are larger than bullheads and can weigh up to 100 pounds. They are found in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs throughout North America.

Catfish are carnivorous and feed on a variety of food sources, including smaller fish, crayfish, and insects. They have deeply notched tails, sharp spines, and dark brown backs with scales.

Catfish are characterized by their barbels, which are used to detect food and navigate in murky waters. They have a lifespan of up to 20 years and can be migratory or non-migratory, depending on the species.

Catfish have a dorsal fin, which is used for stability and propulsion. They also have taste buds all over their bodies, which allow them to detect food even in complete darkness.

Catfish are popular among freshwater fishermen and are often caught using bait such as worms, chicken livers, or stink bait.

Physical Features Comparison

a bullhead underwater

Bullheads and catfish share many physical features, but there are also some notable differences between the two.

Both species have a similar body shape, with a broad, flattened head and a tapering body that ends in a square or notched tail. They also both have barbels around their mouths that help them detect food.

One of the most noticeable differences between bullheads and catfish is their color. Bullheads are typically gray or olive in color, while catfish have dark brown backs and lighter colored bellies.

Additionally, bullheads have scales covering their bodies, while catfish have smooth skin.

Another difference between the two species is the structure of their fins. Bullheads have a single dorsal fin and spiny fins on their sides, while catfish have multiple dorsal fins and no spiny fins.

Additionally, bullheads have a square tail, while catfish have a notched tail.

Habitat and Distribution

a blue catfish face up close underwater

Bullhead and catfish are both freshwater fish that inhabit various bodies of water around the world, including rivers, ponds, and lakes.

In North America, they are commonly found in the Great Lakes region and other freshwater systems, such as the Mississippi River.

Bullhead prefer muddy waters and tend to inhabit slow-moving or still waters, while catfish are known to inhabit a wider range of habitats, including moderate to fast-moving rivers.

They are often found in deeper waters, particularly during the daytime when they tend to be less active.

Both bullhead and catfish are distributed worldwide, with some species being native to specific regions and others being introduced through intentional or accidental means.

In North America, black bullhead and brown bullhead are native species, while other catfish species such as channel catfish and flathead catfish have been introduced into various freshwater systems.

The distribution of bullhead and catfish can vary depending on the species and the location. For example, brown bullhead are commonly found in the eastern United States, while channel catfish are more prevalent in the southern and midwestern regions.

In general, bullhead and catfish are adaptable to a wide range of freshwater habitats and can be found in many different locations around the world.

Dietary Habits

bullhead on a white background

Both bullheads and catfish are known for their omnivorous dietary habits. They feed on a variety of food sources, including insects, worms, crustaceans, snails, small fish, larvae, mollusks, algae, and plants.

Bullheads are bottom feeders and tend to feed on smaller fish and invertebrates that live on or near the bottom of the water. They have a preference for soft-bodied prey, such as insect larvae and small crustaceans.

Bullheads also consume snails, mollusks, and algae. They have been observed to feed on dead fish and other organic matter as well.

Catfish, on the other hand, are known for their love of chicken livers. They are also carnivorous and feed on smaller fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic animals.

Catfish are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever is available to them. They are also bottom feeders and have been observed to feed on dead fish and other organic matter.

In terms of size, catfish tend to feed on larger prey than bullheads. They have been known to consume fish as large as themselves. Bullheads, on the other hand, tend to feed on smaller prey, such as insects and small fish.

Behavioral Traits

a big blue catfish underwater

Bullhead and catfish have different behavioral traits that make them unique. Both are nocturnal and non-migratory, but they differ in their behaviors during spawning season.

During the spawning season, bullhead catfish exhibit aggressive behaviors towards other fish, while catfish are more passive.

Bullhead catfish are known to be territorial and will defend their nests against intruders. In contrast, catfish do not exhibit territorial behaviors during the spawning season.

Both bullhead and catfish are bottom-dwellers and prefer to hide in crevices and under rocks during the day.

They are more active at night when they come out to feed. Bullhead catfish prefer to feed on insects, crustaceans, and small fish, while catfish are known to eat anything from insects to dead animals.

Another difference between bullhead and catfish is their migratory behavior. Bullhead catfish are non-migratory and stay in the same area throughout their life.

In contrast, catfish are migratory and can travel long distances to find food and suitable spawning grounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do bullheads sting?

Bullhead catfish are not known to sting humans. However, they have sharp spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins that can puncture the skin and cause injury.

Flathead catfish vs bullhead: which is better?

Both flathead catfish and bullhead catfish are popular game fish in the United States. Flathead catfish are larger and more sought after for sport fishing, while bullhead catfish are smaller and often used for bait.

Are bullheads good to eat?

Bullhead catfish are edible and have a mild, sweet flavor. However, they are often overlooked as a food fish due to their small size and the difficulty of filleting them.

What is the size of a bullhead catfish?

Bullhead catfish typically grow to be between 6 and 10 inches long, with the largest specimens reaching up to 14 inches in length.

What are baby bullhead catfish like?

Baby bullhead catfish, also known as fry, are small and vulnerable. They are typically brown or gray in color and have a rounded body shape. They feed on small invertebrates and grow quickly in the right conditions.

Are bullhead catfish invasive in the US?

Bullhead catfish are native to North America and are not considered an invasive species. They are found throughout much of the United States and Canada, and are popular among anglers for their fighting ability and willingness to take bait.

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