Bullhead Catfish vs Flathead Catfish: The Differences

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Video bullhead vs flathead

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. Flathead catfish grow much longer, 24 to 46 inches in length and weigh more than bullhead catfish which average 6 to 14 inches long. Bullheads have a larger anal fin and non-protruding jaw.

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.

As a Certified Health Coach, many of my clients ask about seafood and catfish. In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and after writing this article.

Bullhead Catfish vs Flathead Catfish: Differences

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 find out the easiest way to tell these two fish apart.

To tell the difference between a bullhead catfish and a flathead catfish check their anal fins and jaws. Flathead’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:

  • Shape of the head: The head of the flathead catfish is broader and flatter.
  • 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.

Scientific Names, 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 family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Pylodictis
  • Catfish species: P. olivaris
  • Common nicknames: Mudcat, Shovelhead cat, yellow cat, Mississippi cat, pied cat.

Brown Bullhead

  • Catfish family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ameiurus
  • Catfish species: A. nebulosus
  • Common nicknames: Mud pout, horned pout, mud cat.

Black Bullhead

  • Catfish family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ameiurus
  • Catfish species: A. melas
  • Common nicknames: Black bullhead, bullhead.

Yellow Bullhead

  • Catfish family: Ictaluridae
  • Genus: Ameiurus
  • Catfish species: A. natalis
  • Common nicknames: Bullhead, mud cat.

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

Observe bullheads in their natural habitats.

Habitats and Where to Find Them Fishing

Flathead

  • 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.

Bullheads

Brown Bullhead

  • Brown bullhead 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

  • Black bullhead 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

  • Yellow bullhead 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 and flathead are found in many of the same areas and types of waters. Many of the State parks have catfish.

For your safety, always check with your State website because many natural areas are protected and limited to conserve their natural resources. Some of them opens only during certain seasons. Many of the regulations are similar to hunting.

Be sure to stop by your State park’s education center to learn all about these regulations and more.

Learn about bullheads and how they look.

Appearance

Colors

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

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

Adipose Fin

All the catfish have one adipose fin. The flathead’s is a little larger.

Anal Fins

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

Tail Fin

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

Mouth

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

Size and Weight

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

Bullhead Catfish and Flathead Catfish Lifespan

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

Diet

Flathead catfish feed on only live prey:

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

Brown bullhead consumes the following:

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

Black bullhead consumes the following:

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

Yellow bullhead consumes the following:

  • Minnows
  • Insects
  • Plants
  • Worms
  • Snails
  • Crayfish
  • Decaying animal matter

Species Resources 1 2 3 4

Disclaimer: The Keto link below 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.

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.

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, let’s find out which one tastes better.

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

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

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

Bullheads 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.

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To conduct some original research, I polled people from food groups I participate in, clients and readers. The following are the results from the poll of 34 people.

I asked which catfish tastes better?

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

Find out how channel catfish’s taste compared in my article here.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

Substituting Catfishes

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. Let’s examine if and how they can substitute for each other.

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

Flathead substitutes include the following:

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

Bullhead substitutes include the following:

  • Flathead
  • Channel catfish
  • Blue catfish
  • Mackerel
  • Northern pike
  • Tuna
  • Bass
The chef explains how to cook shaved catfish.

How To Cook Flathead and Bullhead

Flathead

If the flathead 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 it with yellow cornmeal before frying.

Popular cooking methods:

  • Frying
  • Deep frying
  • Baking
  • Grilling
  • Broiling

Flavor pairings:

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

The video below explains how to remove the muddy taste from catfish.

Bullhead

If the bullheads are muddy, soak them in icy water or milk over night. Rinse and soak again. This helps extract the dark, muddy flavor from the flesh.

People love coating them with yellow cornmeal before frying or baking.

Popular cooking methods:

  • Deep Frying
  • Frying
  • Baking
  • Grilling
  • Broiling

Flavor pairings:

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

Find out how channel catfish compared to blue in my comparison article.

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.

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 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
    • $3.50 per pound
  • Live blue catfish
    • $3.50 per pound
Kevin Garce checking prices of catfish and seafood in his local supermarket.
Checking prices of catfish and seafood in my local market

Mercury Levels

The FDA and EPA have issued suggestions and warnings regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 5. 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, let’s take a look at which catfish has more mercury.

Flatheads and bullheads 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 6.

Find out how channel cats mercury levels compared in my article here.

Nutrition

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

Nutrient Sources 7 8

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

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Therefore, which catfish is healthier?

Typically, bullheads and flatheads are considered healthy and provide similar amounts of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and B vitamins.

The next section discusses how these nutrients benefit health.

Health Benefits

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids provided by both types of catfish 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 9.

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 in my article article here.

Catfish dinner.
Catfish dinner

Selenium

Selenium is a nutrient provided by both catfish. It doesn’t receive much attention in articles about health. Many scientific studies 10 show selenium may help to protect the following:

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

Potassium

Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 11.

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 12.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between high blood pressure and low potassium levels 13.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided by 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 provided by both 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.
Catfish dinner with fries.
Catfish dinner with fries

Calcium

The calcium provided 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 14.

Calcium also helps the following:

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

Magnesium

The magnesium provided helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. A recent study researched previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 15.

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 16.

If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.

Read Next: More Catfish vs Fish Articles!

Bass vs Catfish – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

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. Chesapeake Bay Program: Flathead Catfish[↩]
  2. Chesapeake Bay Program: Brown Bullhead[↩]
  3. National Park Service: Black Bullhead Catfish[↩]
  4. Delaware.gov: Yellow Bullhead[↩]
  5. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[↩]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[↩]
  7. USDA: Catfish[↩]
  8. CalorieSlism: Flathead[↩]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[↩]
  10. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[↩]
  11. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[↩]
  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[↩]
  13. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[↩]
  14. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[↩]
  15. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[↩]
  16. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[↩]
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>