What is a Bowfin?

Steve R.
Steve R.

Also known as dogfish, mudfish, and grindle, the bowfin is a fish that is 18 to 24 inches (about 46 to 61 cm) in length and is found in lakes and rivers in eastern North America. The fish is known for its scaleless head and its long dorsal fin, which runs almost the length of its body. Weighing up to three pounds (about 1.37 kg), the bowfin is olive-colored on its back and sides and white on its belly, and possesses bright green fins.

Scientifically known as Amia calva, the bowfin can typically be found in slow moving, murky water with thick vegetation and a muddy bottom. Bowfins date back more than 100 million years and are native to areas ranging from southeastern Canada to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The fish have a gas bladder that allows them to extract oxygen from the air, and they also have the ability to survive droughts by nestling in mud.

Males possess a round tail that are orange and black in color. Females also have a round tail, but lack orange coloring. Bowfish have a rounded body, a flattened head that resembles a snake’s head, and dark eyes. In addition, the fish has a sharp jaw with sharp teeth. While most fish have skeletons made of bones, the bowfin possesses a skeleton that is composed of both bone and cartilage.

The bowfin’s diet consists of speckled perch, catfish, crayfish, mollusks, and frogs. The species also is known for eating tiny rodents, snakes, leeches, and even turtles. The bowfin, which is nocturnal, has few natural predators, but is often caught by fisherman. The fish is known for putting up a good fight, but typically the bowfin is not desired for consumption as its meat is considered chewy.

Between the ages of three and five, bowfins are capable of spawning. Bowfins reproduce in the late spring in shallow water. Males begin the process by building nests in weeds and attracting females by playfully prodding and biting. Sometimes more than one couple will take up the same nest. Males often will attempt to mate with more than one female.

Males will aggressively guard the eggs, which hatch in less than two weeks, and will even attack creatures that disturb the nest. Males also protect the young, which swim in schools. When the young get to a size of approximately four inches (about 102 mm), the fish start going out on their own. In the first year of existence, bowfins can grow more than eight inches (about 203 mm) long.

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