The mouth of a bowfin is large with sharp teeth. It uses these teeth to eat a wide variety of all types of fish, which makes up 80 percent of its diet.
  • Size

    3.6 feet (109 cm)
  • Diet

    Any type of fish
  • Range

    North America
  • Habitat

    Sluggish waters, swamps, sloughs, pools, backwaters of lowland streams

Physical Characteristics

  • Bowfin has a long, nearly cylindrical body and a large head.
  • A long dorsal fin extends more than half the length of the back.
  • Mouth is large and is equipped with sharp teeth.
  • This species is olive to brown dorsally and cream-yellow ventrally. There are darker wavy bands on its dorsal and caudal fins.
  • Male has a spot rimmed with orange-yellow at the top of the caudal fin. The female will have either no spot, or the orange-yellow rimming is absent.
  • Bowfin can reach 3.6 feet (109 cm) and 21.5 lbs. (9.75 kg).

Animal Fact

A bowfin is a very primitive fish and therefore is often referred to as a “living fossil.”

Diet / Feeding

  • A voracious feeder consuming all types of fishes, which make up about 80 percent of the diet. Crayfish are also a common prey. The remains of several species of birds, snakes, salamanders, and snails also have been found in the stomachs of individual bowfin.
  • Bowfin can be quite effective in keeping populations of other fish species in check.

Range / Habitat

  • Bowfin occurs from the Mississippi River drainage eastward to the St. Lawrence River and south from Texas to Florida.
  • Found in sluggish waters, swamps, sloughs, pools and backwaters of lowland streams, usually near rooted vegetation.

Conservation Status

  • “Not Evaluated” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • This species has a number of common names used locally, including “dogfish,” “mudfish,” “grindle,” “prairie bass,” “cypress bass,” “cypress trout,” “cottonfish,” “scaly cat” and “mudjack.”
  • Bowfin is a very primitive fish and therefore is often referred to as a “living fossil.”
  • Its swim bladder functions as a lung that enables it to live in oxygen-poor waters. In extreme conditions, it can live out of water for a day as long as its body and gills remain wet.
  • In parts of the South, the eggs of this fish are marketed as caviar, specifically, “Choupique Royale.”
  • Though not considered a sport fish, bowfin will take a hook and are considered strong fighters on light tackle.


  • Fishes of Alabama. Bochung, H.T.; Mayden, R.L., pgs. 120 -121
  • Peterson’s Field Guides – Freshwater Fishes. Page, L.M.; Brooks M., pgs. 31-32
  • McClane’s  Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America. McClane, A.J., pgs. 178 -179
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