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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Smallmouth Buffalo - Ictiobus bubalus

Native/Non-native Species
(depends on location or taxa)

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status

External Links

General Description
Montana's two buffalo fishes are both found east of the Divide. They are both large, heavy, deep-bodied fishes with long dorsal fins. They prefer reservoirs and larger rivers. In past years there has been a small commercial fishery for them in Fort Peck Reservoir. The smallmouth buffalo is the smaller of the two. They are generally bottom feeders and are reportedly good to eat, but bony.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Bronze to slate or olive on back and sides, often with a bluish cast; lighter below. Fins dark. Top of upper lip is well below margin of eye.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions

All Ranges
(Click legend blocks to view individual ranges)

Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 882

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Make long spawning movements from lower Missouri River to upstream areas. Dispersal downstream follows.

Found in rivers and impoundments in both shallow and deep water over firm bottoms. Spawn in larger streams with backwater areas.

Food Habits
Mostly aquatic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks. Some plant material also.

Downstream portions of Yellowstone River important as rearing areas. Ft. Peck Reservoir is important rearing area.

Reproductive Characteristics
Sexually mature at 3 yrs. Incubation: 10 days. Eggs laid over bottom or on vegetation. Spawns late May - July on middle Missouri River with peak in mid-June.

  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Duncan, M.B. 2019. Distributions, abundances, and movements of small, nongame fishes in a large Great Plains river network. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 255 p.
    • Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 1989. Northeast Montana Warmwater Ecosystem Investigations: project period 7/1/88 through 6/30/89. Proj.# F-46-R-2; Job# V-e. 21p.
    • Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 1989. Hauser Reservoir fisheries management plan: September 1989-September 1994. 16 p.
    • Mullen, J.A. 2007. Spatiotemporal variation of fish assemblages in Montana prairie streams. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 102 p.
    • Mullins, M.S. 1991. Biology and predator use of cisco (Coregonus artedi) in Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 68 p.
    • Stash, S.W. 2001. Distribution, relative abundance, and habitat associations of Milk River fishes related to irrigation diversion dams. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 82 p.
    • Stringer, A.L. 2018. Status of Northern Pearl Dace and chrosomid dace in prairie streams of Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 150 p.
    • Trenka, R.J. 2000. Community structure and habitat associations of fishes of the lower Tongue and Powder Rivers. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 85 p.
    • USDI Bureau of Land Management. No date. Fishes of the Miles city, Montana BLM District. Miles City, MT: Miles City BLM District pamphlet. 12 p.
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Citation for data on this website:
Smallmouth Buffalo — Ictiobus bubalus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from