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Bowfin, Amia calva

Bowfin are also an ancient family of fishes and are represented by only one living species found in North America rivers. This heavy bodied, widely distributed predatory fish has a long dorsal fin reaching nearly the length of the body. Bowfin have a lunglike gas bladder, can breath air similar to gar, and can survive in low oxygen environments. Maximum size is about 20 pounds. They are frequently caught by fishermen and sold in restaurants as dogfish or grindle. Males (with a tail spot) dig gravel nests where they guard the eggs and larvae. Bowfin are effective predators on fish and crayfish.
Physical Description: 
  • Elongate, stout-bodied, cylindrical fish
  • Long dorsal fin and bony plate on the underside of the lower jaw
  • Mouth subterminal with jaws bearing peg-like teeth
  • Cycloid scales
  • Body fully scaled
  • Dark spots on the caudal fin of males
  • Similar species:
  • None
  • Mean body size:
  • Adults are 400-600 mm standard length.
  • Habitat:
  • Dark swamps, sluggish rivers, streams, ditches, ponds, lakes, and estuaries
  • Usually found in shallow, weedy areas, near cut banks or stumps
  • During times of drought, bowfin can aestivate (burrow in the mud) and breathe air
  • Distribution in VA:
  • Native to Atlantic slope drainages
  • Introduced to New and upper Roanoke drainages
  • Food Habits:
  • Young feed on microcrustaceans and insects
  • Adults feed on fish, worms, crayfishes, insects, mollusks, and frogs
  • Reproductive Habits:
  • Most spawn at age 4 or 5
  • Spawn in the spring in water about 16-19°C
  • Males construct bowl-shaped nests on bottom in shallows
  • Spawning occurs at night and involves the pair nudging each other and circling the nest
  • Males defend nest
  • Nests contain 2,000-5,000 eggs covered with gelatinous filaments
  • Fecundity is 2,765-64,000 eggs per female
  • Population Status, Economic, or Ecological Importance:
  • One of two living fossils (primitive fish) that live in Virginia
  • A gamefish, but not very edible
References: Jenkins, R.E and N.M. Burkhead. 1993. Freshwater Fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.
If you are seeking more information for the above species click on the VAFWIS logo (The Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service):


Continue Browsing Families.....
  1. Petromyzontidae, Lampreys
  2. Polyodontidae, Paddlefish
  3. Acipenseridae, Sturgeons
  4. Lepisosteidae, Gars
  5. Amiidae, Bowfins
  6. Anguillidae, Freshwater Eels
  7. Amblyopsidae, Cavefishes
  8. Ictaluridae, Catfish
  9. Percopsidae, Trout-Perches
  10. Salmonidae, Trouts
  11. Clupeidae, Herrings
  12. Esocidae, Pikes
  13. Aphredoderidae, Pirate Perches
  14. Umbridae, Mudminnows
  15. Fundulidae, Killifishes
  16. Poeciliidae, Livebearers
  17. Cyprinidae, Minnows
  18. Catostomidae, Suckers
  19. Gasterosteidae, Sticklebacks
  20. Atherinidae, Silversides
  21. Cottidae, Sculpins
  22. Sciaenidae, Drums
  23. Percidae, Perches
  24. Moronidae, Striped Basses
  25. Centrarchidae, Sunfishes

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