Ictiobus nigerBlack buffalo(Also: Buffalofish)

Geographic Range

Black buffalo (Ictiobus niger) have a geographic range from the lower Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to Michigan, Ohio, and South Dakota. In the south, their range also extends to Louisiana. Black buffalo have been introduced into lakes and rivers in Arizona and Texas. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)


Black buffalo inhabit freshwater areas of pools, streams, rivers, and lakes that possess strong currents and deep waters. These fish prefer flooded areas with deep pools and vegetation during the spring reproductive season. ("Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • temporary pools

Physical Description

Black buffalo have a black dorsal side, with dark green or gold on the sides of their body. The dark coloration fades into white on the ventral surface of their body. These fish have a long dorsal fin, round body and head, and a compact snout. Thick lips on the end of their snout and a more streamlined body make them distinguishable from other related species such as bigmouth buffalo and smallmouth buffalo. The different species of genus Ictiobus can interbreed to form hybrids, which causes difficulty in distinguishing individuals in some populations. Adult fish have an average body length of 52 cm. In some cases, males may appear darker in color. Juveniles are physically similar to adults deviating only in size. (Bart Jr., et al., 2010; Johnson and Minckley, 1969; Johnson and Minckley, 1972; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    28.7 (high) kg
    63.22 (high) lb
  • Range length
    123 (high) cm
    48.43 (high) in
  • Average length
    52 cm
    20.47 in


The life history of black buffalo is not well known. These fish tend to inhabit deeper and faster moving waters than other Ictiobus species. Black buffalo move into flooded water areas with higher levels of vegetation in the spring months to spawn. They move back into deeper waters with faster moving currents after the spawning season and reside there for the remainder of the year. Juvenile black buffalo grow rapidly and have the same physical features as adult fish only in a smaller body size. An individual is usually sexually mature and of an adult body size within two years. ("Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)


Black buffalo spawn in flooded areas during the spring months. Females tend to occupy areas around water banks, while males are evenly distributed around the area. Females initiate spawning by leaving their normal occupancy and swimming around the male homing areas. Males typically fall in line with the female and swim next to her until she releases eggs. Multiple males then swim over to the area to complete the spawning process. Fertilization and egg maturation is external. During spawning, black buffalo fish may exhibit excitable behavior and become relatively oblivious to water disturbances. The spawning process often takes several days to complete. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; Yeager, 1936)

Spawning occurs from April through mid-June. Black buffalo are sexually mature around two years old, although sexually mature individuals are extremely hard to distinguish from juveniles. Breeding occurs in streams or ponds with rapid currents. Black buffalo also prefer to breed in areas with sand, gravel, and herbaceous materials. Females lay multiple eggs at a time and may mate with multiple males. The eggs mature and hatch outside of the female's body, with external fertilization. Although the exact number of eggs spawned per season is unknown, females may produce more than 9,000 eggs during their lifetime. Eggs are typically 1.8 to 2.4 mm in diameter. The eggs hatch within 24 to 36 hours, in water temperatures ranging from 19 to 24°C. Black buffalo grow quickly during their first year, growing an average of 134 mm. ("Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Reproduction of Ictiobus niger", 2004; Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

  • Breeding interval
    Black buffalo breed once a year.
  • Breeding season
    These fish spawn in the spring months.
  • Range time to hatching
    24 to 36 hours
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Black buffalo show very little parental investment. They are a non-guarding species. The eggs are placed in deep pools with fast currents and have an adhesive substance that allows them to stay in the selected area. This placement and coating provides the egg with protection until it hatches. Adults choose an area thick with vegetation, which helps ensure that food will be nearby for the young. The young grow quickly and find their own food and resources. ("Fishes of Wisconsin", 1983; "Reproduction of Ictiobus niger", 2004; Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female


The oldest known wild black buffalo survived to 24 years old. These fish are sexually reproductive around the age of two. Very little is known about the capability of black buffalo to live longer in captivity. ("Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    24 (high) years


Black buffalo spend most of their time in deep, fast moving water, but move into flooded areas during the spawning seasons. These fish are bottom feeders. More information is needed concerning the behavior of this species outside of the spawning season. ("Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

Home Range

The exact home range of this species is unknown, however, they can be found in the lower Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins and south to Mississippi and Louisiana. ("Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012)

Communication and Perception

Black buffalo communicate with potential mates through physical movements to initiate spawning. Photo-period length or water temperature may signal spawning migrations to flooded areas in the spring. More research is needed to determine how black buffalo perceive their environment. ("Reproduction of Ictiobus niger", 2004; Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012)

Food Habits

Black buffalo are generalist feeders, eating insect larvae, plankton, vegetation, and small mollusks. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • bryophytes


Black buffalo have color patterns that mimic the water colors in many lakes and rivers. This allows them to blend in and not be as noticeable. Black buffalo reproduce in flooded areas and possess an adhesive substance on their eggs, which helps protect the young even though they do not actively guard their young. Other fish species prey on black buffalo and their eggs including rock bass. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Black buffalo provide biodiversity within aquatic ecosystems, which makes those systems more viable and stable. These fish and their eggs may be eaten by other fish species as well as by humans. As a generalist feeder, black buffalo act as predators for a wide range of species within their ecosystem. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; Self and Campbell, 1956)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans have been using black buffalo as a game fish for many years. Sport and minor commercial fishing have capitalized on capturing black buffalo for food and enjoyment. These fish provide species diversity in the Mississippi River and help sustain the ecological viability of the overall system. A more stable ecosystem provides other species with a stable habitat. ("Ictiobus niger, Black buffalo", 2011)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of black buffalo on humans. Introduced populations do not seem to compete with native species and have not yet posed a measurable problem. (Hendrickson and Cohen, 2012)

Conservation Status

Black buffalo are listed as a special concern species in Minnesota and threatened in Wisconsin, however, no information was found on the IUCN Red List or on the US Federal List. Black buffalo are of special concern in Minnesota, primarily because they are a rare species that is extremely susceptible to habitat degradation. Dams on the Mississippi River play a detrimental role in blocking fish mobility to spawning sites and passage to preferred habitats. More information is needed regarding the life history and behavior of black buffalo. Hybridization between buffalo fish species has also posed a problem in identifying how many individuals are present within each specific species. (Johnson and Minckley, 1969; "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)", 2013; "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger", 2012; "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)", 2013)


Cassandra Dahline (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats plankton


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2013. "Black Buffalo (Ictiobus niger)" (On-line). Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/EndangeredResources/Animals.asp?mode=detail&SpecCode=AFCJC07030.

NatureServe. 2012. "Comprehensive Report Species- Ictiobus niger" (On-line). NatureServe Explorer. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=ICTIOBUS+NIGER+.

1983. "Fishes of Wisconsin" (On-line pdf). Ecology and Natural Resources Collection. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/EcoNatRes/EcoNatRes-idx?type=turn&entity=EcoNatRes.FishesWI.p0056&id=EcoNatRes.FishesWI&isize=M&q1=ictiobus%20niger.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2013. "Ictiobus niger (Rafinesque, 1819)" (On-line). Species profile: Minnesota DNR. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=AFCJC07030.

2011. "Ictiobus niger, Black buffalo" (On-line). FishBase. Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/summary/speciessummary.php?genusname=Ictiobus&speciesname=niger.

2004. "Reproduction of Ictiobus niger" (On-line). Accessed March 24, 2013 at http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Reproduction/FishReproSummary.php?ID=2994&GenusName=Ictiobus&SpeciesName=niger&fc=125&StockCode=3190.

Bart Jr., H., M. Clements, R. Blanton, K. Piller, D. Hurley. 2010. Discordant molecular and morphological evolution in buffalofishes (Actinopterygii: Catostomidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 56: 808-820. Accessed March 25, 2013 at http://www2.southeastern.edu/Academics/Faculty/kpiller/pdfs/Bart_et_al_2010.pdf.

Hendrickson, D., A. Cohen. 2012. "Ictiobus niger" (On-line). Fishes of Texas. Accessed March 25, 2013 at http://www.fishesoftexas.org/taxon/ictiobus-niger.

Johnson, D., W. Minckley. 1969. Natural Hybridization in Buffalofishes, Genus Ictiobus. Copeia, 1969 No. 1: 198-200. Accessed April 29, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1441719.

Johnson, D., W. Minckley. 1972. Variability in Arizona Buffalofishes. Copeia, 1972 No. 1: 12-17. Accessed April 29, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1442778.

Self, J., J. Campbell. 1956. close A Study of the Helminth Parasites of the Buffalo Fishes of Lake Texoma with a Description of Lissorchis gullaris n. sp. (Trematoda: Lissorchiidae). Transactions of the American Microscopical Society, 75 No. 4: 397-401. Accessed April 29, 2013 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3223611.

Yeager, L. 1936. An Observation on Spawning Buffalo fish in Mississippi. Copeia, 4: 238-239.