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Black Buffalo Sucker Family of the Mississippi

February 15, 2020

Black Buffalo Sucker Fish

The Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger) is a freshwater buffalo fish in the Catostomidae or sucker family. Native to the Mississippi Basin and southern Great Lakes, Canada and Lake Erie. As well as, Boston Creek, Tennessee rivers and streams. Other names include Mongrel Buffalo or Current Buffalo.

Description of the Black Buffalo

Black Buffalo

Have a black dorsal side with dark green or gold on the sides of the body. While, the dark coloration fades into white on the belly. Further, the fish has a long dorsal fin, round body and head and compact snout. However, has a more streamlined body that distinguishes them from the other buffalo fish species.

Meanwhile, similar in shape to the Smallmouth and Bigmouth Buffalo and often considered a hybrid of the two. Resembles the Bigmouth Buffalo but has a smaller, nearly horizontal mouth and thick lips on the snout.

While, the upper lip’s front lies well below the lower margin of the eye. Meanwhile, the upper jaw is longer than the eye’s diameter. Has a ventrally positioned mouth.

Generally, grow to lengths of 20 – 30 inches with a maximum length of 48.5 inches. While, the average weight ranges between 10 pounds and 30 pounds.

Biology of the Current Buffalo

Black Buffalo fish tend to inhabit deep and fast-moving water. Generally, in spring move into flooded water areas with high levels of to spawn. Further, return to deeper water with faster currents after spawning where they remain for the rest of the year.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Sexual maturity is reached at two years of age. Spawning in flooded areas and backwaters of sloughs and small to large rivers in spring. Generally, females occupy areas around water banks and males evenly distribute themselves around this area.

While, females leave their normal occupancy and swim around the males homing areas to initiate spawning. Meanwhile, males fall in line with the female, swimming next to her until she releases her eggs. Multiple males then swim over to the area to complete the spawning process.

External fertilization occurs and eggs mature and hatch in 24 – 36 hours at 66 - 75°F. While, spawning occurs in streams or ponds with rapid currents over sand, gravel or herbaceous substrates. Spawning may take several days with females laying multiple eggs at a time mating with multiple males.

The species provides very little parental investment to the eggs and fry. Generally, the fish remains in a state of excitement, unconcerned about unusual movements or disturbances in the area, even violently jumping during spawning. Generally, not returning to normal until after the spawning season.

During spawning, eggs are placed in deep pools with fast currents and are demersal and adhesive allowing them to stay in the area. While, the placement and coating provides the 1.8 – 2.4mm eggs with protection until they hatch.

Generally, selecting areas with thick vegetation to help ensure that food will be nearby for the young. Meanwhile, females may produce over 9000 eggs in their lifetimes. Grows rapidly averaging 5.3 inches after the first year. While, living up to 56 years old.


Found in small and large rivers in eastern North America from the Mississippi Basin to Canada. Meanwhile, also found in Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Texas and Oklahoma.


The US angling record is 55.5 pounds. While, the all tackle world record is currently 63 pounds 6 ounces. Has a coarse but sweet, lean flesh similar in taste to the carp. Makes for good eating when baked, poached, sautéed, grilled or even smoked. Sometimes take dough baits made with cottonseed meal and provide exceptional sport when hooked. However, catches in Texas are rare.

Conservation and Management

In Canada only the Fisheries Act protects the fish. While, in Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin the fish is listed as of special concern and therefore protected. Meanwhile, threats and issues that the Black Buffalo fish face include loss, modification or fragmentation of large rivers caused by dams in the area.

Further, mistaken identities do lead to the species being taken by commercial fisheries. Furthermore, out-competed by the invasive Bighead Carp for food and habitat. While, natural hybridization presents farther problems. Meanwhile, to ensure the long life and thriving reproduction of the Black Buffalo, protection and restoration of large river habitats is required.

Further, ranging from educating anglers, biologists and the general public in taxonomy, systematics and habitat use. Furthermore, dams need to be equipped with passages to connect fragmented habitats and invasive species need to be controlled.

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