[As a special weekend treat–and in keeping with this week’s theme, kindly find a repeat of a post about brown bullhead catfish from 3 years ago]
The most common catfish in New York State is the brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus) a fish sometimes also gracelessly known as the “mud pout” or the “horned pout”. The brown bullhead lacks the beauty and charisma of many other catfish. It is not electrical, has no armor, does not walk, and does not grow to immense size (average fish are usually 14 inches long or smaller). It has two-tone coloration: unremarkable brown above and off-white below (although, like most fish, it can adapt somewhat to local conditions).
The fish does however illustrate one of the reasons I like catfish and write about them so much. It is the most common catfish of New York State, a state marked by extreme differences of population density, landscape, temperature, and water quality. The brown bullhead is a hard-to-kill generalist which does well everywhere in the state (and throughout the east coast, the Great Lakes, the midwest, and the south). It can be found in Prospect Park, a short walk from my apartment just as easily as in a cold Adirondack lake. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website describes the fish as follows:
Brown bullheads are probably the most adaptable member of the catfish family and live in a wide variety of habitats. They exemplify the hardiness of catfishes in general, tolerating both high water temperatures and low oxygen levels. They are present in many cool Adirondack lakes and often abundant in warm water ponds, lakes, and larger, slow moving streams. They occur in areas with or without aquatic vegetation and can be found over both muddy and gravelly bottoms.
The brown bullhead has the same exquisitely refined senses as other catfish. Its whole body is covered with taste buds, which are particularly numerous on its eight barbels. Though not especially large, the creature is strong, agile, and flexible. An omnivore, the brown bullhead is protected from predators by the extremely sharp spines on its dorsal fin and its pectoral fins. Both parents builds nests together and together they protect the eggs and even the young fry for a while after hatching. Most astonishingly, the fish is heartily indifference to water pollution which makes it the foremost city catfish. Below it is pictured with the other common New York City fish. It is apparently a reasonably fun sportfish, although some fishing experts think that it is only suitable for child anglers (due to how extensively it can be found). When not caught in polluted water it makes a tasty meal.
Whereas I usually write about invasive species coming from some exotic locale to the United States, the brown bullhead is the opposite. When introduced abroad it has been the classic ugly American, stealing food and habitat from native species or eating them outright (which seems even more gauche than my habit of anxiously overtipping). Large populations have now established themselves in Europe, Russia, China, Australia, and New Zealand and the fish keep expanding their range.