Bullhead vs Catfish: What Are the Differences?

Written by August Croft
Published: March 15, 2022
© iStock.com/Renars2014
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Did you know that there are some key differences between a bullhead vs catfish? While bullheads are a type of catfish, there are many features that you can use to distinguish them from other catfish varieties- but what should you look out for when trying to tell the differences between these two fish?

In this article, we will compare and contrast the bullhead and the catfish so that you can glean a true understanding for each of these animals. We will also go over each of their preferred habitats, behaviors, and lifespans, as well as their physical appearances. Let’s get started!

Comparing Bullhead vs Catfish

bullhead vs catfish
The average catfish grows larger in both length and weight than the average bullhead.

©A-Z-Animals.com

BullheadCatfish
Lifespan5-10 years10-20 years
Size8-14 inches; 1-5 pounds 12-24 inches; 15-40 pounds
AppearanceCompact appearance with square tail; yellow or brown color and spiny finsOlive or gray in color and the younger fish have spots on them; small dorsal fin and notched tail
Location and HabitatNorth America; found in still or slow moving locations and muddy watersWorldwide depending on the species; moderate to fast moving rivers or streams
BehaviorNocturnal and non-migratory; enjoys living in a large group of bullheadsEnjoys wide variety of bait; often the most common catfish caught, and migrates

Key Differences Between Bullhead vs Catfish

There are many differences between a bullhead and a catfish. The average catfish grows larger in both length and weight than the average bullhead. Bullheads also have distinctly square tails, while all other catfish varieties have deeply notched tails. Finally, bullheads prefer still and muddy waters compared to the average catfish, which prefers moderate to fast moving rivers.

Let’s discuss all of these differences in more detail now.

Bullhead vs Catfish: Size and Weight

bullhead vs catfish
Bullheads have distinctly square tails, while all other catfish varieties have deeply notched tails.

©IrinaK/Shutterstock.com

There are some major size and weight differences between a bullhead and a catfish. The average bullhead only reaches 1-5 pounds, while catfish grow anywhere from 15-40 pounds, if not far larger depending on the species. Bullheads are much smaller than catfish, especially if you consider the fact that catfish never stop growing- they grow as they age, for the entirety of their lives.

The average catfish also grows longer in length compared to bullheads. You may find bullheads that grow anywhere from 8-14 inches in length, while catfish reach 12-24 inches, if not larger. Some species of catfish grow quite large, so these size differences only get more extreme!

Bullhead vs Catfish: Location and Habitat Preferences

bullhead vs catfish
Bullheads are only found in North America, particularly the eastern United States, while catfish species are found worldwide.

©Rostislav Stefanek/Shutterstock.com

While both bullheads and catfish live in North America, you can find catfish around the world in a variety of different habitats. This is one key difference when comparing catfish and bullheads- bullheads are only found in North America, particularly the eastern United States, while catfish species are found worldwide.

These two fish also prefer very different habitats from one another as well. The majority of catfish enjoy moderate to swift moving currents or rivers, while bullheads thrive in still and muddy waters. This is likely due to their hunting skills and the nutritional components of both of these types of waters.

Bullhead vs Catfish: Appearance

bullhead vs catfish
The primary difference between these two fish is that bullheads have spiny fins, while not all species of catfish have this feature.

©Sergey Goruppa/Shutterstock.com

It doesn’t take an expert angler to be able to tell the difference between a bullhead and a catfish, despite them both belonging to the catfish family. You may not pick up on their differences right off the bat, but let’s go over some of their key differences now so that you can tell them apart in the future.

The average catfish is gray or olive in appearance, spotted and whiskered. Bullheads are yellow or brown in coloration, often with a yellow underbelly and a brown upper body. The primary difference between these two fish is that bullheads have spiny fins, while not all species of catfish have this feature.

You can tell the difference between a bullhead and a catfish by looking at their tails as well. Catfish have deeply notched and triangular shaped tails, while bullheads have square tails. This is one of the easiest ways to tell these two fish apart using a single glance.

Bullhead vs Catfish: Behavior

bullhead vs catfish
Many different species of catfish migrate to spawn, swimming upstream in order to do so, while bullheads are considered a non-migratory species of fish.

©WH_Pics/Shutterstock.com

There are some behavioral and lifestyle differences between bullheads and catfish. Many different species of catfish migrate to spawn, swimming upstream in order to do so, while bullheads are considered a non-migratory species of fish. There are some other behavioral differences as well- let’s address them now.

Many bullheads are nocturnal fish, which is somewhat rare compared to the diurnal catfish. Bullheads also enjoy the company of many other bullhead fish, while catfish enjoy life in groups or on their own, depending on the season or time of year. Catfish are also not very particular about the type of bait used when fishing, while bullheads have a slightly pickier palette.

Bullhead vs Catfish: Lifespan

bullhead vs catfish
The average catfish lives anywhere from 10-20 years, while bullheads live 5-10 years on average.

©iStock.com/Renars2014

A final key difference between catfish and bullheads is their lifespan. The average catfish lives anywhere from 10-20 years, while bullheads live 5-10 years on average. This is likely due to the smaller size of the bullhead compared to the larger size of many catfish varieties. Bullheads are more likely to be eaten or hunted as prey, while larger catfish are not often eaten by predators. However, both of these fish are frequently caught by anglers, so there’s no telling how long their lifespans are in captivity versus in the wild!


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Catfish Teeth- Fresh Catfish
© iStock.com/Renars2014

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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