The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Ictiobus cyprinellus
Ictiobus cyprinellus
(Bigmouth Buffalo)
Native Transplant

Copyright Info
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.  Further description found in Becker (1983); Hubbs et al. (1991); Page and Burr (1991); Etnier and Starnes (1993).

Size: 43-52 cm on average

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.

Native range data for this species provided in part by NatureServe NS logo
Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Ictiobus cyprinellus are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
AZ191820125Agua Fria; Lower Colorado; Lower Salt; Tonto; Upper Salt
CA194819761Indian Wells-Searles Valleys
CO201020101Middle South Platte-Sterling
IN196219621St. Joseph
MI200020152Detroit; Lake St. Clair
NC199120094Lower Pee Dee; Rocky; Upper Catawba; Upper Yadkin
OH196220045Auglaize; Chautauqua-Conneaut; Grand; Lake Erie; Sandusky
SC200920091Lower Pee Dee
TX198919891Lower Angelina
WI196420175Lake Michigan; Lake Winnebago; Lower Fox; Ontonagon; Wolf

Table last updated 7/22/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

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, this species 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.

This species is 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: The status of I. cyprinellus is cryptogenic in the southern reaches of the Great Lakes (Becker 1983, Scott & Crossman 1998). It was reported in Cudmore-Vokey and Crossman (2000) as expanding northward into Canadian waters. Canada considers this species native to at least Lake Erie and its tributaries, but it may also be native to Lake Michigan (Bailey & Smith 1981; COSEWIC 2009). It expanded to Lake Ontario and Southern Lake Huron through the Welland Canal around the year 2000 (COSEWIC. 2009).

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)

Bailey, R.M., and G.R. Smith. 1981. Origin and geography of the fish fauna of the Laurentian Great Lakes Basin. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 38:12:1539-1561.

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.

COSEWIC. 2009. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Bigmouth Buffalo Ictiobus cyprinellus, Great Lakes - Upper St. Lawrence populations and Saskatchewan - Nelson River populations, in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vii + 40 pp. (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/status/status_e.cfm).

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:
Great Lakes Waterlife

FishBase Summary

Author: Fuller, P., and R. Sturtevant

Revision Date: 1/10/2024

Peer Review Date: 9/1/2014

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., and R. Sturtevant, 2024, 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: 1/10/2024, Peer Review Date: 9/1/2014, Access Date: 7/22/2024

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. [2024]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [7/22/2024].

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