Ictiobus cyprinellus
Ictiobus cyprinellus
(Bigmouth Buffalo)
Native Transplant
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Ictiobus cyprinellus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1844)

Common name: Bigmouth Buffalo

Synonyms and Other Names: gourd head, redmouth buffalo, buffalo fish, common buffalofish, buffalo, bernard buffalo, roundhead, brown buffalo, baldpate

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Largest member of the sucker family,deep-bodied and laterally compressed.  Long dorsal fin like other suckers but has a large oblique terminal mouth with thin sucker lips.  No barbells or spines.  Pharyngeal teeth present, but no teeth in mouth.  Gill rakers, each with many lateral projections, on both sides of the arch, those on the anterior edge of the first arch long, fine, closely spaced, at least 60 in number.  Tail moderately long, very broad, moderately forked and with pointed tips.  Easily confused with carp, but lacks the single serrated spine at the beginning of the dorsal fin that is present in carp.   Eye level with the tip of the upper jaw.  Green-gold to black with a coppery sheen.  Becker (1983); Hubbs et al. (1991); Page and Burr (1991); Etnier and Starnes (1993).

Size: 123 cm (max) 35 cm (common)

Native Range: Hudson Bay (Nelson River drainage), lower Great Lakes, and Mississippi River basins from Ontario to Saskatchewan and Montana, and south to Louisiana (Page and Burr 1991).

Occurs from Lake Erie south through Ohio and Mississippi River basins to the Tennessee River in northern Alabama, west to Arkansas, south to near the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, northwest through eastern Texas and Oklahoma (rare), north through Iowa and South Dakota to the Milk River in central Montana.  From Illinois in the Mississippi River drainage northwest through western Minnesota and north in the Red River into Manitoba and west into Saskatchewan.

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Native range data for this species provided in part by NatureServe NS logo
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: The Bigmouth Buffalo was stocked in Perry Lake, Perry County, Alabama (Mettee et al. 1996). It was also stocked in Arizona in the four in-line reservoirs of the Salt River west of Phoenix in 1918, and is now established. These fish were also stocked in the Colorado River at Yuma (Minckley 1973). In California, populations were discovered in the Los Angeles aqueduct system in the late 1940s. Although the populations declined in the 1950s and are no longer commercially harvested, they are still established (Evans 1950; Moyle 1976). In Colorado, an adult was taken by an archer in the South Platte River near Morgan, Colorado (Walker 2010). This species is established in the Lake Michigan, Lake St. Clair, Michigan and Lake Erie (Cudmore-Vokey and Crossman 2000; Bailey et al 2004). In North Carolina, these fish were introduced to the Yadkin and Catawba drainages (Menhinick 1991). In Oklahoma, Bigmouth Buffalo were collected in the North Canadian River (Mathews and Gelwick 1990).  Limited populations collected in the Great Pee Dee river in South Carolina (Rohde et al. 2009).  Bigmouth Buffalo may have escaped from a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fish hatchery and entered the York drainage, Virginia (Jenkins and Burkhead 1994). There are several published reports of this species from the Lake Michigan drainage in Wisconsin; however, there are no voucher specimens and the one photograph that is available has been identified by experts as this genus, but the species identification is uncertain (Becker 1983). Another collection of this species in Wisconsin is of a single fish from Big Lake in Vilas County. It is supported by a voucher specimen (Becker 1983).

Bigmouth Buffalo have also invaded Ontario through Lake Erie (Scott and Crossman 1998, Cudmore-Vokey and Crossman 2000) – first collected in Canadian waters of Lake Erie in 1957 (Scott 1957b).  Native to the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, this species has expanded its range in Manitoba to the south end of Lake Manitoba and in 1996 to Swann Creek on the east shore of that lake (Scott and Crossman 1998).


Ecology: A demersal fish living near the lake bottom, Bigmouth Buffalo Inhabits main channels, pools, and backwaters of small to large rivers as well as lakes and impoundments.  It prefers water less than 5m depth (Johnson 1963).  This fish is well-adapted to reservoirs, preferring slow water and tolerant of turbidity, low oxygen and high temperatures.   

Unlike other suckers, eats plankton as well as benthos, feeding primarily on cladocera and cyclopoid copepods supplemented with midge larvae (Etnier and Starnes, 1993).   Larger adults are probably not susceptible to predators due to their body shape. 

Oviparous (Breder and Rosen 1966). Spawns in spring for a very short period (mid-May to June) at water temperatures 60-65F (15.5-18.3C) in small tributaries, marshes or flooded lake margins. Up to ~750,000 eggs per spawning female – eggs adhere to vegetation.  Will hybridize with smallmouth buffalo (Johnson and Minckley 1969).

Means of Introduction: Intentional, authorized stocking for sport fishing in Arizona in 1918 (Minckley 1973); unknown in North Carolina. It is speculated that commercial fishermen transplanted this species from Arizona to California to provide a source closer to the Los Angeles Fish Market (Moyle 1976). Escaped from an aquaculture facility in Virginia. Population in Alabama was intentionally stocked by a federal fish hatchery during studies (Mettee et al. 1996). Bigmouth Buffalo were introduced to western Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay around 1920 (Trautman 1981) by the federal government - however, they may have already occurred there. The introduction in Big Lake, Wisconsin, is probably a result of a transplant associated with fish rescue operations from the Mississippi River in the 1930s (Becker 1983). The Lake Michigan drainage records may be the result of movement through the Wisconsin-Fox Canal.

Status: Reported from Virginia, but not seen since escape. Established in all other areas with the possible exception of Yuma, Arizona and Perry Lake, Alabama. A few large individuals were collected from Perry Lake, Alabama, in 1992, however, they are probably not reproducing (Mettee et al. 1996).

Impact of Introduction: This species may compete with native minnows and suckers, as well as with juvenile sport fishes, for food and space (Moyle 1976).

Remarks: In the early 1900s all three species of buffalofishes were stocked; I. bubalus, I. cyprinellus, and I. velifer (Leach 1921, 1923). However, when the stockings were reported they were lumped together as "buffalofish" and it is not possible to determine which species were planted. Stocking of buffalofishes occurred outside their native ranges in Lake Erie in Ohio, the Pee Dee and Catawba drainages in North Carolina, and in unknown locations in Massachusetts (Leach 1921, 1923).

References: (click for full references)

Becker, G. C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI.

Breder, C.M. and D.E. Rosen.  1966.  Modes of reproduction in fishes.  T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey.  941 p.

Cudmore-Vokey, B. and E.J. Crossman. 2000. Checklists of the fish fauna of the Laurentian Great Lakes and their connecting channels. Can. MS Rpt. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2500: v + 39p.

Etnier, D. A., and W. C. Starnes. 1993. The fishes of Tennessee. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.

Evans, W. A. 1950. Notes on the occurrence of the bigmouth buffalo in southern California. California Fish and Game 36(3):332-333.

Hocutt, C.H. and E.O. Wiley.  1986.  The Zoogeography of North American Freshwater Fishes.

Hubbs, C., R. J. Edwards, and G. P. Garrett. 1991. An annotated checklist of freshwater fishes of Texas, with key to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1--56.

Hubbs, C.L. and K.F. Lagler.  2004.  Fishes of the Great Lakes region.  Revised Edition.  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

Jenkins, R. E., and N. M. Burkhead. 1994. Freshwater fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD.

Johnson, D.W. and W.L. Minckley.  1969.  Natural hybridization in buffalofishes, Genus Iciobus.  Copeia Vol. 1 pp 198-200. 

Johnson, R.P. 1963.  Studies on the life history and ecology of the bigmouth buffalo, Ictiobus cyprinellus (Valenciennes). Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 20(6)1397-1429.

Mathews, W. J., and F. R. Gelwick.  1990.  Fishes of Crutcho Creek and the North Canadian River in central Oklahoma: effects of urbanization.  Southwestern Naturalist 35(4): 403-410.

Menhinick, E. F. 1991. The freshwater fishes of North Carolina. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. 227 pp.

Mettee, M. F., P. E. O'Neil, and J. M. Pierson. 1996. Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin. Oxmoor House, Inc. Birmingham, AL. 820 pp.

Minckley, W. L. 1973. Fishes of Arizona. Arizona Fish and Game Department. Sims Printing Company, Inc., Phoenix, AZ.

Moyle, P. B. 1976. Inland fishes of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Rohde, F. C., R. G. Arndt, J. W. Foltz, and J. M. Quattro.  2009.  Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina.  University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC. 430 pp.

Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman.  1998.  Freshwater Fishes of Canada.  Galt House Publications, Ltd. Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Trautman, M. 1981 Fishes of Ohio.

Walker P. G.  2010.  Pers Comm.  Colorado DNR - Division of Wildlife.

Other Resources:
FishBase Summary

Author: Fuller, P., and Rochelle Sturtevant

Revision Date: 12/15/2017

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., and Rochelle Sturtevant, 2018, Ictiobus cyprinellus (Valenciennes in Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1844): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=362, Revision Date: 12/15/2017, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 3/19/2018

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [3/19/2018].

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