The bigmouth buffalo, the largest member of the sucker family, lives in lakes and rivers in most of Minnesota except for the Lake Superior watershed. Unlike many fish, it can survive in cloudy, warm water.
General description: Unlike other members of the sucker family, the bigmouth buffalo has a mouth at the front of its face. It looks like a carp without barbels.
Size: Buffalo are big. They can grow 3 feet long or longer and weigh more than 50 pounds The Minnesota record is 41 pounds, 1 ounce, caught in the Mississippi River in Goodhue County.
Color: Bigmouth buffalo range in color from green to gold to almost black. They have a coppery sheen.
The female buffalo lays her eggs in shallow water in April or May. Several males get involved, pushing her to the surface and swimming rapidly, flailing tails. Called "tumbling," this helps fertilization by mixing eggs and milt. Eggs hatch after about 10 days.
These big fish support themselves largely on a diet of tiny foods: zooplankton, algae, plants, insect larvae, and other small invertebrates.
Predatory fish such as walleyes, northern pike and bowfin eat small bigmouth buffalo. People harvest this fish commercially, and it is available in some grocery stores. The fish can have a muddy taste unless it comes from clean water.
Habitat and range
Bigmouth buffalo live in lakes, large rivers, and swamps. They can live in shallow, slow-moving water with a silty, muddy bottom and can tolerate low oxygen and high temperatures (up to 90 degrees). In Minnesota, they are found in the Red River, Mississippi, and Minnesota river basins. They are most common in the St. Croix and lower Mississippi rivers.
Population and management
Buffalo are abundant in much of Minnesota and are in no danger of overharvest. Ditching and draining for farmlands, which eliminated shallow lakes, may have reduced bigmouth buffalo populations in the first half of the 20th century.
Unlike other suckers, buffalo may move in schools. Sometimes they are found hanging out at the surface of a lake or river. One nickname is "baldpate," because the fish has a big, bare head. Kandiyohi is Dakota for "where the buffalo fish come."