Bullhead Catfish vs Channel Catfish:Are Bullheads Different?

Bullhead catfish and channel catfish can be found in the same waters and have similar body shapes. For this reason many people wonder about their differences. Let’s answer, what is the difference between a channel catfish and bullhead catfish?

Channel catfish has a deeply forked tail fin compared to bullhead’s rounded tail fin. Channel catfish grow much longer, 22 inches and weigh more than the smaller bullhead which average 6-14 inches. Channel catfish are more gray in color while bullheads are brown or yellow.

This article will compare their tastes, textures, costs and whether one can substitute for the other. In addition, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of their species, habitats and appearance.

As a Certified Health Coach clients ask me about seafood including catfish. In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and after writing this article.

Bullhead Catfish vs Channel Catfish: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance

There are times different species of the same type of fish are difficult to tell apart. This can cause an issue when shopping in the market, fishing or just out of curiosity. Many times this is true with catfish.

Let’s examine how to tell the difference between the two catfish.

To tell the difference between a bullhead catfish and a channel catfish check their tail fin and size and weight. A channel catfish’s tail fin is deeply forked while the bullhead’s tail fin is rounded. Channel catfish average 22 inches long and weigh 30 pounds. Bullhead catfish average 6-14 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds.

Addition ways to tell the difference:

  • Channel catfish have dark round spots which fade as an adult. Bullhead catfish don’t have any small dark spots, just mottled or solid colors.
  • Channel catfish have a dark gray to olive body color. Bullhead have either a yellow, dark brown or black upper back and body.

Scientific Classifications, Families and Species

There are three common bullheads in The United States and North America:

  1. Black bullhead
  2. Brown bullhead
  3. Yellow bullhead

Therefore, since the term bullhead is used to describe different species of fish, I’ll be comparing the channel catfish to the three more common ones listed above.

Black Bullheads are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ameiurus
  • Species: A. melas
  • Common nicknames: Black bullhead, bullhead.

Brown Bullheads catfish are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ameiurus
  • Species: A. nebulosus
  • Common nicknames: Mud pout, horned pout, mud cat.

Yellow Bullheads are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ameiurus
  • Species: A. natalis
  • Common nicknames: Bullhead, mud cat.

Channel catfish are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ictalurus
  • Species: I. punctatus
  • Common nicknames: Channel cats, cats.

Both are from the same family but different genus and species.

bullhead catfish and channel catfish photo comparison

Habitats

Black Bullheads

  • Black bullhead catfish are located in southern Canada and throughout the central United States. They are found from the Great Lakes down south to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.
  • They are found in fresh and brackish waters, lakes, rivers, ponds and reservoirs.

Brown Bullheads

  • Brown bullhead catfish are found in North America from southern Canada, throughout the central United States down to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • They’re found in lakes, rivers, ponds and reservoirs.

Yellow Bullheads

  • Yellow bullhead catfish are located in southern Canada and throughout the central and eastern United States. They’re found from the Great Lakes down south to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Yellow bullheads are found in rivers, streams, lakes and ponds.

Channel Catfish

  • Channel are native to lower Canada, eastern and northern United States and parts of northern Mexico.
  • They’re found in rivers, reservoirs, lakes and ponds.

Both are located in many of the same areas and types of water. Bullheads are able to tolerate water with low oxygen.

Appearance

Colors

  • Black bullheads have a black or dark brown upper body and sides with a yellow to white belly. The body color is not mottled. The mouth barbels are black. The base of the tail has a pale colored bar.
  • Brown bullheads have a mottled dark brown to green upper body and sides fading to yellowish towards the lower sides. The belly is creamy to off white.
  • Yellow bullheads have a yellow to olive upper back and sides fading to a lighter yellow on the middle to lower sides. The underside and belly are yellow to white or bright white. The chin barbels are white or creamy.
  • Channel have a darkened, olive brown to grayish upper body with a light, silvery, white belly.

When male channels are spawning their color turns more bluish which may confuse some people thinking it’s a blue catfish. When this occurs, check their anal fins.

Dorsal Fins

  • Black bullheads have one dorsal fin.
  • Brown bullheads have one dorsal fin.
  • Yellow bullheads have one dorsal fin.
  • Channel have one dorsal fin.

Anal Fins

  • Black bullheads have one anal fin with 17 to 21 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is slightly rounded.
  • Brown bullheads have one anal fin with 21 to 24 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is slightly rounded.
  • Yellow bullheads have one anal fin with 24 to 27 soft rays. The edge is almost straight.
  • Channel have one anal fin with 24 to 29 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is slightly rounded.

Tail Fin

  • Black bullheads have a slightly notched tail fin which is unforked.
  • Brown bullheads have a slightly notched tail fin which is unforked.
  • Yellow bullhead’s unforked tail fin is almost straight or slightly rounded.
  • Channel have a forked tail fin.

Mouth

  • Black bullheads have a wide mouth with the jaws meeting before the eye line. The upper and lower jaws do not protrude. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels around the mouth.
  • Brown bullheads have a wide mouth with the jaws meeting before the eye line. The upper jaw slightly protrudes more than the lower jaw. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels around the mouth.
  • Yellow bullheads have a wide mouth with the jaws meeting before the eye line. The upper and lower jaws do not protrude. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels around the mouth.
  • Channel have a wide mouth with the jaws meeting before the eye line. The upper jaw protrudes more than the lower jaw. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels or whiskers around the mouth.

Scales

  • Black bullheads have soft skin with no scales.
  • Brown bullheads have soft skin with no scales.
  • Yellow bullheads have soft skin with no scales.
  • Channel have soft skin with no scales.

Size and Weight

  • Black bullheads average 8 to 14 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds.
  • Brown bullheads average 12 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds.
  • Yellow bullheads average 6 to 10 inches long and weigh 1 to 1.5 pounds.
  • Channel average 22 inches long and 30 pounds but can grow up to 50 pounds.

Lifespan

  • Black bullheads average lifespan is 5 to 10 years.
  • Brown bullheads live up to 7 years.
  • Yellow bullheads live up to 12 years.
  • Channel average lifespan is 14 to 16 years.

Diet

Black bullheads consume the following:

  • Plants
  • Insects
  • Small fish
  • Crustaceans
  • Worms
  • Snails
  • Fish eggs

Brown bullheads consume the following:

  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Mollusks
  • Crustaceans
  • Crayfish
  • Small fish
  • Fish eggs

Yellow bullheads consume the following:

  • Plants
  • Worms
  • Insects
  • Snails
  • Minnows
  • Crayfish
  • Decaying animal matter

Channel consumes the following:

  • Small fish
  • Frogs
  • Small crustaceans
  • Insects
  • Clams
  • Worms
  • Snails

Species Resources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Disclaimer: The Keto link and some others in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Catfish and other seafood are renowned for being a part of many diets like keto or heart healthy.

If you’re eating low-carb or want to give keto a try, many of my clients have followed this 28-Day Keto Challenge with great success. Visit their website and check it out.

Taste and Texture

Two reasons people choose to eat a certain catfish are their texture and taste. After all, who wants to add a nice fried fillet to their plate, unless they enjoy the taste? When comparing the two catfish, let’s examine which one tastes better.

Bullhead and channel catfish have a similar mild to medium taste. Both catfish may taste slightly muddy depending on the type of water it came from. The textures of bullhead and channel are firm and less flakey than most white flesh fish. A farm raised catfish will taste milder.

Therefore, a channel catfish from cleaner water will taste better than a bullhead from muddier water. In addition, a bullhead from cleaner water will taste better than a channel from muddy water.

Channel catfish has a mild to sweet taste and is good to eat. A wild caught flavor will be more medium and slightly muddy. The texture is firm and moist if cooked properly.

Bullheads have a mild flavor if farm raised or from clear water. If wild caught, the flavor may be muddy. The texture is moist and meaty if cooked properly.

To conduct some original research, I polled people from food groups I participate in, clients, friends and readers.

The following are the results from the poll of 28 people. I asked which catfish tastes better?

  • 47% preferred the taste of channel catfish.
  • 44% preferred the taste of bullhead.
  • 9% said they had no preference, or it depended where the fish was caught.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

Find out how blue catfish compared to flathead in my article here.

Substitutions

It’s not always possible to locate the type of fish called for in a recipe. In addition, maybe you only catch one type of catfish or only have one in the refrigerator. If you have only one you may wonder if you can substitute one for the other.

Bullhead and channel catfish can substitute for each other in recipes due to their similar mild to medium flavors. Both can be prepared using similar cooking methods like frying, grilling, baking, searing or broiling. Channel catfish fillets may need to be trimmed to match the smaller sized bullhead fillets.

Bullhead substitutes include the following:

  • Channel catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Blue catfish
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Northern pike
  • Bass

Channel substitutes include the following:

  • Bullhead
  • Blue catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Bass
  • Grouper

How To Cook

Bullheads

If the bullhead is muddy, try this to improve the taste.

  • Try soaking in icy water or milk over night. Rinse and soak again. This helps extract the dark, muddier flavor from the flesh.

People love coating the catfish with yellow cornmeal before frying or baking.

Popular cooking methods:

  • Frying
  • Deep frying
  • Baking
  • Grilling
  • Broiling

Flavor pairings:

  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Creole seasoning
  • Cajun
  • Chili powder
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Lemon pepper
  • Lemon
  • Mustard

Channel

Some people may find channels a little muddy depending where they were caught or the temperature. Therefore, the preparation is important.

Many people soak the fish in milk or icy water, rinse the fillets and soak the fish again. Keep repeating this process until the water and the flesh of the fish become clearer.

Another way to remove the muddy taste is to remove the darker flesh from the middle of the fillets or right below the skin. It’s easy to trim away the darker strip although the fillets become smaller.

Popular ways to cook:

  • Frying
  • Deep frying
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Grilling

Flavor pairings:

  • Yellow cornmeal
  • Cajun
  • Creole seasoning
  • Chili powder
  • Smoked paprika
  • Dijon
  • Lemon
  • Garlic
  • Buttermilk
  • Yellow cornmeal

Find out how blue catfish compared in my article my article.

Mercury Levels

The FDA and EPA have issued suggestions and warnings regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 20. This is especially important for:

  • Young infants
  • Developing children
  • Pregnant women

They established a list of the following:

  • Fish to avoid
  • Good choices
  • Best fish

Knowing how important mercury levels are, everyone should know how much mercury each fish contains. Therefore, let’s examine how much mercury both catfish contains.

Bullhead and channel have similar levels of mercury and are listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish regarding mercury levels. 

If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

Mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations 21.

Cost

The prices for most fish fillets and fresh fish will vary depending on how they’re caught and where they’re sold. Always check the label to see if its farm raised or wild caught which affects the price. Therefore, let’s examine how much each catfish costs.

Bullhead and channel have a similar price per pound. Wild caught channel and bullhead prices range from $18.99 to $29.30 per pound.

To conduct more research, I conducted a search for the most popular websites selling fish online. Many of the businesses sold catfish but didn’t specify what type of catfish. The following are the prices I was able to find in my search.

I checked online at Amazon and found the following:

  • Catfish fillets (didn’t specify which type)
    • $34.56 per pound

Check out Amazon’s current prices and selection of catfish or any other seafood, Fresh Seafood.

I checked Fulton Fish Market online:

  • Wild Channel fillet
    • $29.30 per pound

I checked Citarella online:

  • Catfish fillet (didn’t specify type)
    • $16.00 per pound

I checked FreshDirect online:

  • Farm raised Catfish fillets (didn’t specify the type)
    • $12.99 per pound

I checked Cast Away Lakes online:

  • Live flathead
    • $3.50 per pound
  • Live blue catfish
    • $3.50 per pound

Find out how flathead catfish compared inmy comparison article.

Nutrition Differences

The table below shows the nutrients contained in 4 ounces of channel catfish.

Nutrient Channel Catfish, raw (4 Ounces)
Calories 108
Fat 3.2 g
Saturated Fat 0.8 g
Cholesterol 66 mg
Protein 19 g
Sodium 49 mg
Omega-3 0.53 g
B-6 0.1 mg
B-12 2.5 mcg
Thiamin 0.23 mg
Riboflavin 0.08 mg
B5 0.8 mg
Iron 0.3 mg
Niacin 2.1 mg
Folate 11.3 mcg
Potassium 405 mg
Magnesium 26 mg
Phosphorus 237 mg
Calcium 15.8 mg
Zinc 0.5 mg
Selenium 14.2 mcg

Nutrient Sources 22 23

I was unable to verify the amount of each nutrient contained in bullheads. For this reason, I didn’t want to include their nutrient numbers. Bullhead does provide the same nutrients as channel catfish listed above.

Bullhead and channel catfish provide similar amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, protein and minerals. Keep reading the next section to find out how these nutrients benefit health.

Find out how flatheads compared in my article here.

Health Benefits

Both catfish contain the following nutrients. These nutrients help provide many benefits which are described below.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Channel catfish provides 0.53 grams per four ounces. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy in many ways, especially for the heart. They have been determined in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure.
  • Lowering bad cholesterol.
  • Increasing good cholesterol.
  • Lowering inflammation.
  • Keeping the arteries healthy and functioning properly.
  • Reducing triglycerides.
  • Regulating heart rhythms.

For this reason, omega-3s are sold as a supplement. They are extracted from the flesh of fatty fish like herring, sardines, salmon, tuna, anchovies and cod livers. The best way to obtain omega-3 is consuming fresh fish, low in mercury twice per week.

Two of the fatty acids, EPA and DHA, have been shown in studies to lower blood pressure and improve the function of blood vessels 24.

Other studies have shown them to reduce joint stiffness and pain in people with arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids have also increased the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Magnesium

The magnesium provided by both catfish helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. A recent study researched previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 25.

Magnesium helps control the following:

  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle
  • Nerve function

One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.

In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 26.

Selenium

Selenium is a nutrient provided which doesn’t receive much attention in articles about health. Many scientific studies 27 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid
  • The immune system
  • Cognitive issues

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided include the following:

  1. B1 (thiamin)
  2. B2 (riboflavin)
  3. B3 (niacin)
  4. B5
  5. B6
  6. B9 (folate)
  7. B12

B vitamins help support the following:

  • Digestion
  • Energy levels.
  • Nerve function.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Brain function.

Calcium

The calcium provided is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 28.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Helps muscles function properly.
  • Improve nerve function.
  • Build and maintain strong bones.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.
  • Help the kidneys remove waste.
  • Muscle contraction.
  • Muscle recovery.
  • Help the body store and manage energy.
  • Promote bone and teeth strength.

Read Next: More Fish Articles!

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Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Chesapeake Bay Program: Brown Bullhead[]
  2. Wikipedia: Brown bullhead[]
  3. Missouri Department Of Conservation: Brown Bullhead[]
  4. Wikipedia: Black bullhead[]
  5. National Park Service: Black Bullhead Catfish[]
  6. Texas Parks & Wildlife: Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas) []
  7. Missouri Department Of Conservation: Black Bullhead[]
  8. Wikipedia: Yellow bullhead[]
  9. Delaware.gov: Yellow Bullhead[]
  10. New Hampshire Fish and Game: Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) []
  11. Missouri Department Of Conservation: Yellow Bullhead[]
  12. Florida Museum: Yellow Bullhead[]
  13. USDA: Yellow Bullhead[]
  14. Michigan.gov: Catfish and Bullheads[]
  15. Michigan Department of Natural Resources: Catfish[]
  16. Wikipedia: Channel catfish[]
  17. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Channel catfish[]
  18. Maryland Department of Natural Resources: Channel Catfish[]
  19. Wikipedia: Catfish[]
  20. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  21. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  22. USDA: Fish, catfish, channel, farmed, raw[]
  23. USDA: Catfish[]
  24. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  25. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  26. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  27. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]
  28. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]

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