Fish Facts » Bowfin
The bowfin fish is the sole bowfin belonging to the family Amiidae and the order Amiiformes. They have an elongate body with a dorsal fin running its entire length. The tail has semiheterocercal scales and the body is encased with cycloid scales. Its head is armored with a double skull and a large mouth and strongly developed teeth, bony gular plate, and tubular nostrils. Bowfins have kidney tubules opening directly into the coelomic cavity in contrast to other freshwater rayfin fish which have their kidneys closed off from the body cavity. The back and sides of the bowfin are olive-colored, with dark, and netlike mottling while the belly is cream-colored to white. The paired fins and anal fin are bright green. As juveniles both sexes have a round-to-oval black spot at the base of the upper caudal rays. Mature males have a black spot on the upper caudal rays rimmed with orange-yellow. Mature females do not have a black spot on the peduncle.
Bowfins typically inhabit lowlands and are common in backwaters, oxbow lakes, and clear, well-vegetated streams. They have a preference for clear water with abundant vegetation but are tolerant of silt, mud, and high temperatures. Adult bowfins usually live in deep water, coming into shallows at night and during the breeding season.
Bowfins normally eat fish, such as speckled perch and catfish in the northern region of Florida, but they may prey on freshwater crayfish.
Since the bowfin feeds principally on fish it is frequently cursed for feeding on sportfish. They compete with the sport fish for food and may take any bait or lure that bass or catfish fishermen use. Bowfins are strong on the hook and are a game opponent for the angler.
Adult bowfin females may reach 30 inches (75 cm), obtain a weight of 8½ pounds (3.8 kg) and, live approximately 12 years. Adult males may grow to attain a length of 18-24 in (457 - 610 mm) TL. The longest bowfin caught measured 34.3 in (870 mm) in length, while the largest bowfin fish caught in the United States (South Carolina) weighed 21 lbs. 8 oz. (9.8 kg). The largest bowfin fish caught in Florida waters weighed in at 19 lbs (8.6 kg).
The bowfin has a distribution from St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers and Lake Champlain west throughout the Great Lakes, including Georgian Bay and lakes in Nipissing and Simcoe, Ontario (Canada). They are found south in the Mississippi basin from Lake Winnibigoshish, Minnesota, to Louisiana, in the lower Texas drainages west to Colorado River and along Coastal Plain from Alabama to eastern Pennsylvania (US). Changes in the environmental quality have probably all but eliminated the bowfin from the Missouri watershed system. It has been introduced in a number of localities in Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina, and Connecticut.
Florida Museum of Natural History
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