The bowfin (Amia calva) is a bony fish that can be found in North America. Mudfish, mud pike, dogfish, grindle, grinnel, swamp trout, and choupique are all common names. It is considered a relic since it is the only surviving species of the Halecomorphi, a group of fish that first formed roughly 250 million years ago during the Early Triassic period. Bowfins are often referred to as primitive fish since they retain some morphological traits from their forefathers.

Amia calva, the only extant member of its genus, family, and order, is the bowfin. Calva appears to be derived from the Latin word for scalp or skull, or alternatively smooth, which could refer to the bowfin’s unique scale-free head. Many more species have been discovered in the fossil record, but they appear to have died out.

Bowfin fish species in its habitat
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Bowfins are stratified breathers, meaning they can take in both water and air. Their gills exchange gases in the water to allow them to breathe, but they also have a gas bladder that helps them retain buoyancy while also allowing them to breathe air through a small pneumatic duct connected to the foregut. They have the ability to break the surface and gulp air, allowing them to survive circumstances of aquatic hypoxia that would kill most other animals.

Distribution and Ecology

Bowfins are freshwater pelagic piscivores that can be found over much of the eastern United States, as well as in southern Ontario and Quebec. Amiiformes were previously widespread in both freshwater and marine settings over North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, according to fossil deposits.

Their range is now limited to much of the eastern United States and southern Canada, including the Mississippi River and Great Lakes drainage basins, as well as other rivers left in the Eastern Seaboard or the Gulf of Mexico. Vegetated sloughs, lowland rivers and lakes, swamps, and backwater areas are their favored habitats; they are also occasionally seen in brackish water. They’re ambush predators that move into the shallows at night to hunt fish and other aquatic invertebrates.

Bowfin fish species in its hideout
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Habitat

Bowfin can be found in vegetated sloughs, lowland rivers and lakes, swamps, backwater areas, and brackish water. In slow water with heavy vegetation, they are well disguised and difficult to notice. They frequently seek refuge beneath roots and submerged logs. Because of their ability to breathe air, people can withstand low-oxygen conditions.

Body Characteristics

The bowfin has a large dorsal fin and powerful conical teeth and is mottled green and brown. This fish gets its name from its dorsal fin, which spans over half of the back with 46 to 50 delicate undulating rays. There are also two pectoral fins near the head, two pelvic fins about the mid-section of the lower body, and a short anal fin near the back.

The skull has huge teeth and is made up of two layers, one on top of the other for added protection. Females grow to be 75 cm long (30 inches). Bowfins can weigh up to 9.8 kg (21.6 pounds). Males are typically smaller, measuring 45.7 to 61 cm (18 to 24 inches) in length. A blacktail spot outlined in orange additionally distinguishes it.

Bowfin fish species
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Diets

The bowfin is a sluggish but deadly ambush predator that waits quietly in the darkness before stalking and attacking. Bowfins hunt on amphibians, crabs, insects, snakes, and other fishes, including other bowfins. Alligators hunt on bowfins, which are also targeted by sports fishermen. Its mouth moves quickly enough to create adequate suction to effortlessly grab and suck in prey.

Spawning

The bowfin’s reproductive strategy is unique among fish species in that it devotes time to caring for its offspring. In the spring, the bowfin spawns. To attract females, the male builds a rudimentary nest among the plants. He guards both the fertilized eggs and the freshly hatched young when the eggs are fertilized. Bowfins live for up to 30 years.

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