Black Buffalo


Photo courtesy of Konrad Schmidt


Black buffalo - Common name
Ictiobus niger - Scientific name
Family - Catostomidae (suckers)
Status: SU, G5

IDENTIFICATION: This large sucker-fish can grow to 37 inches (940 mm) in length. It has a gray, olive, or bronze back with dark blue and olive iridescence. It has a white-yellow belly, black to olive-yellow sides, and olive black fins. It has a large conical head. Its sucker mouth is located near the bottom of its head.

SIMILAR SPECIES FOUND IN SOUTH DAKOTA: Similar species that occur in eastern South Dakota are the bigmouth buffalo and the smallmouth buffalo. The bigmouth buffalo has a very large ovoid head and a sharply oblique terminal mouth. The smallmouth buffalo has a conical head similar to the black buffalo but smaller with larger eyes. The smallmouth buffalo has a strongly keeled nape, whereas the black buffalo has a more rounded, weekly keeled nape. The smallmouth buffalo has a sub-terminal and horizontal mouth, whereas the mouth of the black buffalo is nearly sub-terminal and oblique rather than horizontal. The black buffalo has a body that is wider and shallower that that of the smallmouth buffalo.

HABITS AND HABITAT: Black buffalo inhabit impoundments and lakes, and pools and backwaters of small to large rivers.

DISTRIBUTION: Distribution Map The black buffalo ranges from South Dakota east to Michigan and Ohio, and as far south as Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. There have only been three occurrences of black buffalo in eastern South Dakota. Two occurred in the lower Big Sioux River below Sioux Falls in Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties. The falls likely form a barrier that prevents the further upstream migration of this large-river fish. The other occurrence was in Lake Mitchell in Davison County. Black buffalo have not been documented in eastern South Dakota since 1971.Finding a black buffalo in eastern South Dakota today would be very rare.

CAUSES OF CONCERN AND CONSERVATION MEASURES: The black buffalo is threatened by any activity causing alteration of its habitat.