Bigmouth Buffalo in Lake Erie: PA

Article Posted: May 15, 2003

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Bigmouth Buffalo in Lake Erie
Renea Ruffing
Graduate Research Assistant
The Pennsylvania State University

This past weekend while electro shocking fish during a toxicity study off Presque Isle Bay our team of researchers encountered a large fish we initially thought was a huge carp. Upon closer inspection and much to our surprise, the fish turned out to be not a carp at all but a bigmouth buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus). Bigmouth buffalo are actually members of the sucker family (Catostomidae). They currently are listed as endangered in Pennsylvania and as recently as 1985 were actually thought to be extinct in the state. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission does have some more recent records from the 1990ís indicating that bigmouth buffalo may be making a comeback into the bay area. The bigmouth buffalo though somewhat similar in appearance to common carp can be easily distinguished by several obvious characteristics. First unlike carp, bigmouth buffalo do not have barbels at the corners of their mouths as carp do. Their mouth is terminal meaning it opens at the foremost point of the head with the upper and lower jaws being equally far forward. They also differ from carp by not having a large spine on the first dorsal fin. Bigmouth buffalo also closely resemble their cousin the smallmouth buffalo which can also be found in Lake Erie. The smallmouth buffalo has a subterminal mouth, meaning the mouth opens before the foremost point on the head. The smallmouth buffalo is currently listed as threatened by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission so anglers should take care to be sure that they release either of these fishes if caught unharmed. If in doubt its always safer to take a picture of the fish and release it, which is which we did this past weekend. It could be helpful to all anglers to carry a fish field guide with them to help in identifying any fish you are not sure about. For further information on these fish or any other questions you might have I can be reached at

Source: Renea Ruffing - Graduate Research Assistant PSU is a Trademark of Great Lakes Angler Online All rights reserved
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