Bullhead Catfish vs Flathead Catfish: The Differences


Bullhead and flathead catfish can be found swimming in the same waters and have some similarities. For this reason many people ask about their differences. Therefore, what’s the difference between bullhead catfish and flathead catfish?

Bullhead catfish and flathead catfish are different species and genus. Bullheads are from the Ameiurus genus and flatheads are from the Pylodictis genus. Flathead catfish grow much longer, 24 to 46 inches in length and weigh more than bullhead catfish which average 6 to 14 inches long. 

This article will compare their tastes, textures, costs and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll compare their nutrients, species, habitats and appearance.

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Disclaimer: The above link and 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.

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

There are times the same type of fish, like catfish, are difficult to tell some species apart from the other. This may cause a slight problem when shopping, fishing or just out of curiosity. Therefore, let’s answer the question.

How can you tell the difference between a bullhead catfish and a flathead catfish?

To tell the difference between a bullhead catfish and a flathead catfish check their anal fins and jaws. Bullhead catfish’s anal fin contains approximately 12 soft rays while bullhead’s anal fin contains 17 to 27 soft rays. Flathead’s lower jaw protrudes more than the upper jaw while bullhead’s lower jaw doesn’t protrude.

Other ways to tell the difference between a bullhead and flathead catfish:

  • Shape of the head: The head of the flathead catfish is broader and flatter than the bullhead’s head.
  • Size and weight: Bullhead catfish average 6 to 14 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds. Flathead catfish average 24 to 46 inches long and can weight more than 100 pounds.

It’s safe to assume a catfish weighing more than 10 pounds is not a bullhead catfish.

flathead catfish and bullhead catfish photo comparison

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Scientific Classifications, Families and Species

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

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

Since the term bullhead catfish is used to describe different species of fish, I’ll be comparing the flathead catfish to the three more common bullheads listed above.

Flathead catfish are from:

  • Family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Pylodictis
  • Species: P. olivaris
  • Common nicknames: Mudcat, Shovelhead cat, yellow cat, Mississippi cat, pied cat.

Brown Bullhead catfish are from:

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

Black Bullhead catfish are from:

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

Yellow Bullhead catfish are from:

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

Bullhead catfish and flathead catfish are from the same family but different species and genus of catfish.

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Habitats

Flathead Catfish
  • Flathead catfish are native to The United States, lower Canada and northeastern Mexico. They range from The Great Lakes, west of the Appalachian Mountains, south to the Gulf of Mexico and west to Texas.
  • They’re found in lakes, ponds, rivers and in some brackish water inlets.

Brown Bullhead Catfish

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

Black Bullhead Catfish

  • Black bullhead catfish are located throughout the central United States and southern Canada. 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.

Yellow Bullhead Catfish

  • 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.

Bullhead catfish and flathead catfish are found in many of the same areas and types of waters.

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Appearance

Colors

  • Flathead catfish have a brown-yellowish body mottled with brown or black. The belly is pale white to creamy.
  • Brown bullhead catfish 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.
  • Black bullhead catfish 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.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish 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.

Dorsal Fins

  • Flathead catfish have one dorsal fin.
  • Brown bullhead catfish have one dorsal fin.
  • Black bullhead catfish have one dorsal fin.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish have one dorsal fin.

Anal Fins

  • Flathead catfish have one anal fin with about 12 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is rounded.
  • Brown bullhead catfish have one anal fin with 21 to 24 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is slightly rounded.
  • Black bullhead catfish have one anal fin with 17 to 21 soft rays. The edge of the anal fin is slightly rounded.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish have one anal fin with 24 to 27 soft rays. The edge is almost straight.

Tail Fin

  • Flathead catfish have a slightly notched, unforked tail fin.
  • Brown bullhead catfish have a slightly notched, unforked tail fin.
  • Black bullhead catfish have a slightly notched, unforked tail fin.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish’s unforked tail fin is almost straight or slightly rounded.

Mouth

  • Flathead catfish have a wide mouth with their jaws meeting before the eye line. The lower jaw protrudes more than the upper jaw. Their mouth has four pairs of barbels or whiskers around the mouth.
  • Brown bullhead catfish 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.
  • Black bullhead catfish 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.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish 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.

Scales

  • Flathead catfish have soft skin with no scales.
  • Brown bullhead catfish have soft skin with no scales.
  • Black bullhead catfish have soft skin with no scales.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish have soft skin with no scales.

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Size and Weight

  • Flathead catfish average 24 to 46 inches long but can grow up to 60 inches and weigh more than 100 pounds.
  • Brown bullhead catfish average 12 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds.
  • Black bullhead catfish average 8 to 14 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish average 6 to 10 inches long and weigh 1 to 1.5 pounds.

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Lifespan

  • Flathead catfish average lifespan is 5 to 22 years.
  • Brown bullhead catfish lives up to 7 years.
  • Black bullhead catfish average lifespan is 5 to 10 years.
  • Yellow bullhead catfish lives up to 12 years.

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Diet

Flathead catfish consumes the following:

  • Worms
  • Grayfish
  • Insects
  • Blue crabs
  • Eels
  • Plants
  • Small crustaceans
  • Small fish

Brown bullhead catfish consumes the following:

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

Black bullhead catfish consumes the following:

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

Yellow bullhead catfish consumes the following:

  • Minnows
  • Insects
  • Plants
  • Worms
  • Snails
  • Crayfish
  • Decaying animal matter
flathead catfish photo
Flathead catfish

Species Resources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

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.

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Taste and Texture

Two reasons people choose to eat a certain fish are their taste and texture. After all, who wants to add a nice fried catfish fillet to their plate, unless they enjoy the taste? When comparing the two catfish, what tastes better flathead or bullhead catfish?

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

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

Is flathead catfish good to eat? Flathead catfish has a mild to sweet taste and is good to eat. A farm raised flathead will be milder than the wild caught catfish which will be more medium and slightly muddy. The texture is firm and moist if cooked properly.

What does bullhead catfish taste like? Bullhead catfish have a mild flavor if from clear water or farm raised. If wild caught, the flavor may be muddy. The texture is moist and meaty if cooked properly.

I polled people from food groups I participate in and readers. The following are the results from the poll of 34 people. I asked which fish tastes better, flathead or bullhead catfish?

  • 57% preferred the taste of flathead catfish.
  • 35% preferred the taste of bullhead catfish.
  • 8% said they had no preference, or it depended where the fish was caught.

Find out how channel catfish’s taste compared to flathead catfish in my article, Channel Catfish vs Flathead Catfish: What’s The Difference?

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Substitutions

It’s not always possible to locate the type of fish called for in a recipe. In addition, maybe you only have one in the refrigerator or caught one type of fish. If you have some flathead catfish, you may ask, can I substitute flathead for bullhead catfish?

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

Flathead catfish substitutes include the following:

  • Bullhead catfish
  • Blue catfish
  • Channel catfish
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Grouper
  • Northern pike
  • Bass

Bullhead catfish substitutes include the following:

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

How To Cook Flathead Catfish

If the flathead catfish is muddy:

  1. Soak the fillets in icy water or milk over night. Rinse and soak again. This helps extract the muddy flavor from the flesh.
  2. Trim away all the darker flesh from the middle of the fillet or directly under the skin. The darker meat has the muddier flavor.

People love coating the catfish with yellow cornmeal before frying.

Popular cooking methods for flathead catfish:

  • Frying
  • Deep frying
  • Baking
  • Grilling
  • Broiling

Flavor pairings for flathead catfish:

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

How To Cook Bullhead Catfish

If the bullhead catfish is muddy, soak it in icy water or milk over night. Rinse and soak again. This helps extract the dark, muddy flavor from the flesh.

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

Popular cooking methods for bullhead catfish:

  • Deep Frying
  • Frying
  • Baking
  • Grilling
  • Broiling

Flavor pairings for bullhead catfish:

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

Find out how channel catfish compared to blue catfish in my article, Channel Catfish vs Blue Catfish: What’s The Difference?

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Cost

The prices for most catfish fillets 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, which fish costs more, flathead catfish or bullhead catfish?

Flathead catfish and bullhead catfish have a similar price per pound. Catfish fillets price range is from $12.99 to $34.56 per pound.

I conducted a search for the most popular websites selling fish online. Many of the businesses sold catfish but didn’t specify what type. 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 catfish 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 catfish
    • $3.50 per pound
  • Live blue catfish
    • $3.50 per pound

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Mercury Levels

The FDA and EPA have issued suggestions and warnings regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 22. This is especially important for:

  • Pregnant women
  • Young infants
  • Developing children

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, does flathead catfish or bullhead catfish have more mercury?

Flathead catfish and bullhead catfish 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 23.

Find out how bullhead catfish and channel catfish mercury levels compared in my article, Bullhead Catfish vs Channel Catfish: What’s The Difference?

Flathead Catfish and Bullhead Catfish Nutrients

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

Nutrient Flathead Catfish, raw (4 Ounces)
Calories 130
Fat 3.1 g
Saturated Fat 1.1 g
Cholesterol 68 mg
Protein 20 g
Sodium 55 mg
Omega-3 0.57 g
B-6 0.3 mg
B-12 1.9 mcg
Thiamin 0.19 mg
Riboflavin 0.08 mg
B5 0.4 mg
Iron 0.3 mg
Niacin 2.9 mg
Folate 9.2 mcg
Potassium 508 mg
Magnesium 37 mg
Phosphorus 293 mg
Calcium 25.3 mg
Zinc 0.6 mg
Selenium 17.2 mcg

Nutrient Sources 24 25

Due to the limited information on the amount of each nutrient contained in bullhead catfish, I left out the numbers from the table above which I couldn’t verify. Bullhead catfish does contain the same type of nutrients as flathead catfish listed above.

Typically, bullhead and flathead catfish provide similar amounts of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and B vitamins. The next section discusses how these nutrients benefit health.

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Health Benefits

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Flathead catfish provides 0.57 grams of omega-3s 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:

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

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

Two of the fatty acids, DHA and EPA, have been shown in studies to lower blood pressure and improve the function of blood vessels 26.

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.

Find out how blue catfish compared to flathead in my article, Flathead Catfish vs Blue Catfish – What’s The Difference?

Selenium

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

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

Potassium

Flathead catfish provides 508 mg per four ounces. It helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 28.

The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 29.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between high blood pressure and low potassium levels 30.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided by flathead and bullhead catfish 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:

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

Phosphorus

The phosphorus contained in flathead and bullhead catfish has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:

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

Calcium

The calcium provided by flathead catfish and bullhead 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 31.

Calcium also helps the following:

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

Magnesium

The magnesium flathead catfish and bullhead provide helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. A recent study researched previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 32.

Magnesium helps control the following:

  • Muscle
  • Insomnia
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar
  • 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 33.

Read Next: More Catfish vs 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. Wikipedia: Flathead catfish[]
  2. Chesapeake Bay Program: Flathead Catfish[]
  3. Delaware.gov: Flathead Catfish[]
  4. Texas Parks & Wildlife: Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) []
  5. UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: Flathead Catfish[]
  6. National Park Service: Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) and Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) []
  7. Chesapeake Bay Program: Brown Bullhead[]
  8. Wikipedia: Brown bullhead[]
  9. Missouri Department Of Conservation: Brown Bullhead[]
  10. Wikipedia: Black bullhead[]
  11. National Park Service: Black Bullhead Catfish[]
  12. Texas Parks & Wildlife: Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas) []
  13. Missouri Department Of Conservation: Black Bullhead[]
  14. Wikipedia: Yellow bullhead[]
  15. Delaware.gov: Yellow Bullhead[]
  16. New Hampshire Fish and Game: Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) []
  17. Missouri Department Of Conservation: Yellow Bullhead[]
  18. Florida Museum: Yellow Bullhead[]
  19. USDA: Yellow Bullhead[]
  20. Michigan.gov: Catfish and Bullheads[]
  21. Michigan Department of Natural Resources: Catfish[]
  22. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  23. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  24. USDA: Catfish[]
  25. CalorieSlism: Flathead[]
  26. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  27. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]
  28. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  29. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  30. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  31. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  32. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  33. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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