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Color varies from dark olive or brown to sometimes dark gray and light beneath. The head is large and fleshy and not flattened. The body is short and stout. It looks more like a bullhead than either of the other madtoms. There are 13 to 15, usually 14, rays in the anal fin. The premaxillary band is bar shaped. There is a very narrow dark line along the side of the body. Upper and lower jaws are of equal length. This little fish rarely exceeds 3 or 4-inches long.
Widely distributed in the large interior rivers and the Mississippi River; most abundant in the small, rocky, clear-water streams, mainly in the northeastern and northcentral regions. Its presence in many of the oxbow lakes along the Missouri shows that it is also present in the parent stream. Occasionally taken in the natural and man-made lakes of the state.
Insects, occasionally algae and other aquatic plants
Female madtoms usually mate several times during the June through July breeding period. Young fish have been taken in collections in late fall measuring about one inch long. Most individuals probably mature during their second summer and few live beyond their third summer.
Like most madtoms, this species is most active at night. These catfishes, as well as the other madtoms, have a poison gland at the base of the pectoral fin. When one is stung or pricked by one of the spines, there is a burning sensation similar to a bee or wasp sting.
Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.