|Species||5 distinct species|
|Length||Up to 4 feet (1.2 m)|
|Weight||Up to 82 lbs (45-70kg)|
|Lifespan||Up to 112 years!|
|Social Structure||Solitary to Gregarious|
|Conservation Status||Least Concern, though some places have specific protections|
|Preferred Habitat||Quickly moving streams with aquatic vegetation|
|Average # of eggs||250,000 eggs per kg – roughly 12.5 million eggs per adult over a lifetime!|
|Main Prey Species||Aquatic vegetation, detritus, plankton, and larvae|
|Predators||Much other fish as juveniles, few natural predators as adults, Humans|
The Basics of Buffalo Fish
The buffalo fish is a genus of large suckerfish that includes several different species. The largest of them, Ichthyus Bubalus, can weigh over 80 pounds! Ironically, the common name for the largest buffalo fish is “smallmouth buffalo,” perhaps a tribute to the fish’s huge body compared to its small, downward-facing mouth.
While the small-mouth buffalo only lives a maximum of 18 years, its cousin, the large-mouth buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus) can live up to 112 years. It belongs to a rare category of animals that live to be 100 years old. Despite its common name, the Bigmouth Buffalo is slightly smaller than the Smallmouth, peaking at 65 pounds.
All buffalo fish belong to the suckling pig family. This group of fish has adapted a downward-facing mouth that allows them to scrape algae off rocks, suck up debris from the ground, and ingest the small chunks of food and nutrients that reach the bottom of a body of water.
For this reason, some cultures describe the buffalo as “rough” and inedible, while other buffaloes like to consume it in a variety of ways. One of the most popular forms is fried buffalo, which is eaten in various places along the Mississippi.
Fishing for Buffalo?
Buffalo fish prefer slower river areas with high vegetation and are sometimes found in lakes. Since buffalo fish feed on the bottom, your best chance of catching a buffalo is to bait your hook with corn and weigh it so that the bait hangs directly over the bottom of the lake or river.
Another common method of fishing for buffalo is night fishing with a bow using a light. The light draws buffalo fish to the surface, where they can be shot and caught with a modified bow and arrow for fishing. While this method is becoming increasingly popular, it also dramatically increases the average harvest of an angler. Until appropriate buffalo population protection laws are passed, fishermen must be very careful not to catch more fish than they need.
Buffaloes prefer high areas of vegetation as they lay their eggs in areas with slightly exposed aquatic vegetation. Buffalo fry (babies) feed on microscopic algae and plankton. It takes almost a decade for a buffalo fish of all species to fully grow, with the largest fish producing the most eggs. Therefore, this species is likely to be severely affected by trophy hunters removing or killing older individuals.
Interesting Insights from the Buffalo Fish!
The buffalo fish is a species that has adapted to life at the bottom of a swift, murky stream. As such, it shows many adaptations to this environment. These adaptations and other aspects of the buffalo fish provide evidence for some very interesting biological concepts and theories.
Many fish have developed a special feeding method. Water is a competitive place, so any advantage you have over the competition can be life or death. Buffalo fish have adapted perfectly to life at the bottom of muddy rivers and lakes.
Buffalo fish have a downward-facing mouth that is capable of scraping algae directly off rocks and sucking chunks of food out of mud and sand at the bottom of a canal. Buffalo fish, like other algae-eating fish, have several gill rakes.
Gill rakes are bony bumps that sit in front of the gills and filter out all kinds of microscopic organisms. Like other species of fish that feed on algae, buffalo fish collect a certain amount of algae simply by swimming through the algae-proof water. This makes gathering food a somewhat passive process, one of the reasons buffalo fish can be so big!
Dams and Fish Reproduction
Like many species of river-dwelling fish, buffalo fish have big problems with dams. Dams are typically built for two reasons: to store water or to generate power. Dams sometimes serve both purposes.
However, many dams were built without fish. Fish often feed and grow in one area of a river system while migrating to other areas to breed. Many species attempt to travel upstream to breed, and without dams, the buffalo fish is no exception. With dams, it is incredibly difficult for buffalo fish to travel upstream to breed.
One study found that in a dam built nearly 70 years ago, the only individuals left in the lake above the dam were around 80 years old – a sign that few or no new individuals have found their way to the lake in more than! 70 years! If they are not designed for fish, dams often harm many local species by blocking the natural flow of fish to different parts of the river.
Try saying this quickly five times! A “supercentennial” is an organism that lives more than 100 years. Interestingly, only one type of buffalo fish is a “supercentennial” and that’s the largemouth buffalo.
The smallmouth buffalo can only live to be 18 years old, but the smallmouth buffalo has some kind of genetic adaptation that allows it to live 5 to 6 times longer.
Scientists can confirm a fish’s age by measuring a bone called an otolith, which is found in the inner ear. Fish use these bones for hearing and balance, and each year a new ring of calcium and minerals is added to the otoliths as the fish grows. In this way, scientists have confirmed that the largemouth buffalo fish is one of the longest-lived species of fish, although we still do not know why or how they do it!
Interesting Facts About the Buffalo Fish
Different species have a number of characteristics and adaptations that help them survive. Find out more about these and other cool facts about these fish below.
- Ancient fish: Researchers using carbon dating have estimated that this species can live up to 112 years. This makes the fish one of the longest-lived fish species in the world.
- Easy Fishing: Anglers do not usually anchor and sedalize this fish. However, in recent years, people have used special bows and arrows to hunt this fish at night. Since they swim in shallow water, people are quite successful with this method.
- Potential Problems: In some regions, researchers have found that the vast majority of the population is made up of fish over 80 years old. This means that they will not reproduce successfully. Because of this, overfishing could be a problem if stocks are not renewed.
- Detritus Diet – While feeding, these fish will eat just about anything that gets into their mouths. In fact, researchers estimate that nearly half of the things they eat are not even edible. The fish swallows sand as it sifts for edible bits. This sand simply goes through the digestive system and comes back at the other end!
Habitat of the Buffalo Fish
Each species has its own unique habitat preferences. These preferences vary depending on the region in which the fish live. However, all of them inhabit freshwater habitats and generally do not reach saltwater.
Some live in waters with slow currents, while others inhabit faster waters. They occupy lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers, streams, and more.
Can you eat bigmouth buffalo?
Similar to carp, this freshwater fish belongs to the sucker family. It has a thick but sweet lean meat that can be baked, poached, sautéed, or broiled. Buffalo fish can be purchased whole or in fillets or steaks. It tastes particularly good in a smoked form.
Buffalo Fish- The Basics, Feeding Adaptations, Habitat