Black Buffalo

Ictiobus niger


Black buffalo side view photo with black background
Black buffalo, Ictiobus niger
Lance Merry
Other Common Name
Mongrel Buffalo; Round Buffalo; Blue Rooter; Current Buffalo

Catostomidae (suckers) in the order Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, and loaches)


Like other buffalofishes, the black buffalo is a dark-colored sucker with a deep body and a long, sickle-shaped dorsal fin. The eyes are small and closer to the tip of the snout than to the rear margin of the gill cover. The lower fins have much dusky pigment. As the name suggests, the life colors are generally darker than those of the bigmouth buffalo.

Similar species:

  • Compared to the bigmouth buffalo, the black buffalo has a small, nearly horizontal mouth and thicker, more strongly grooved lips. The front of the upper lip is well below the level of the lower margin of the eye. The length of the upper jaw is equal to or slightly greater than the diameter of the eye.
  • Compared to the smallmouth buffalo, the body is not as deep but is thicker, its depth going about 2.6 to 3.2 times into the standard length and its width greater than the distance from the tip of the snout to the upper end of the gill opening. Like the bigmouth buffalo, the forward part of the back is rounded or only weakly keeled, not strongly keeled as in the smallmouth.
Key Identifiers


  • The body surface in front of the dorsal fin is rounded or only weakly keeled.
  • The mouth is medium-sized and projects forward.
  • The pelvic fins are densely speckled with black.

Length: typically reaches about 20–30 inches; weight: reaches a maximum of about 53 pounds. Intermediate in size between smallmouth and bigmouth buffalo.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in the same general types of habitats (large rivers) as our other buffalofishes, but compared to them, the black buffalo is more often found in places with a definite current, and it is the buffalo least likely to occur in impoundments. Thus it is usually more common in sections of rivers below dams than in the impoundments above them.


The black buffalo is more of a bottom feeder than the bigmouth buffalo, and it frequents deeper water than the smallmouth buffalo. In some regions of North America, black buffalo have been found to feed extensively on introduced clam species, taking relatively smaller quantities of crustaceans and algae. Detritus and sand are also ingested in the feeding process.

Distribution in Missouri

Widespread in the state, but less abundant and widespread than our other two buffalofishes. Most concentrated in the lower Current River, streams and ditches in the Bootheel lowlands, and in the Mississippi downstream below the mouth of the Missouri River.

Life cycle

Spawning occurs in springtime in flooded or swampy areas, often with a great many (up to several hundred) adults participating in the activity for days. A black buffalo taken in Michigan in 2018 was found to be at least 56 years old.

Human connections

As a group, the buffalofishes rank second in importance to carp in the commercial fishery of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

This species is declining in some states due to loss and fragmentation of appropriate habitat caused in part by dams; being outcompeted for food by introduced exotic Asian carp; and other factors.

Ecosystem connections

Suckers are one of the dominant groups of large fishes in Missouri waters. In many streams, their total poundage may exceed that of all other fishes combined. Each kind of sucker has its own particular habitat preference.

The fleshy, protrusile lips of suckers make them perfectly equipped for sucking up aquatic invertebrates from the bottom.

Small suckers, including the eggs and young of the black buffalo, are an important food source for other animals, including game fishes.