dark olive above with lighter sides and a cream colored belly; long dorsal fin with narrow horizontal band along top margin and another near base; lower fins vivid green
sloughs of Mississippi River, occasional in Iowa-Cedar Rivers drainage, lower reaches of most major Mississippi tributaries
crayfish, fishes, frogs, large insects, leeches
11 pounds, 9ounces - Mississippi River, Clayton County, May 1994 - Bill Gretten, Blue Grass, Iowa
With the exception of rare specimens collected in Spirit and Okoboji lakes, the bowfin is found primarily in sloughs and ponds of the Mississippi River. It has been observed in collections in the lower reaches of the Cedar-Iowa drainage and is probably present today in the lower reaches of all the major tributaries to the Mississippi River. This fish is extremely rare in the interior waters of the state.
The bowfin is a primitive type fish and the sole representative of an ancient fish family. Although the body feels smooth and leathery, it is actually covered with cycloid scales, which are smooth and have no ctenii or rough prickles like some of the other fishes.
Body color of the bowfin is dark olive above with lighter sides and cream-colored belly. The long dorsal fin is dark green with a narrow longitudinal olive-colored band near the top margin and another near the base. The males have a dark spot on the caudal fin, bordered with yellow or orange. Lower fins are green, vivid as fresh paint, during the breeding season. There are 66 to 68 scales in the lateral line. The dorsal fin contains 47 to 51 soft rays and the anal fin 9 or 10 rays. The head is more or less flattened on top and the mouth is large. The teeth are sharp and strongly set in the jaws. Weights of 6 to 8 pounds or more are commonly attained.
Fossil remains of the ancestors of this fish are found in the rocks of Europe and the United States. The present day form is a voracious, hardy individual with a determination to live under any circumstances it may encounter. It prefers large quiet waters and is abundant in the boundary rivers and overflow backwaters. As in the gars, the swim bladder serves as a lung, giving the bowfin air breathing capability.
The ability to breathe air is attained early in life and is used most frequently at night and when water temperature is high, coinciding with periods of greatest activity. The bowfin is able to survive prolonged air breathing periods. Young bowfin have been observed surviving for 21 days in a pond with no standing water.
The bowfin spawns in the spring, usually in May, in shallow quiet bays or backwaters of a river. It is a nest-builder and deposits the eggs in a saucer-like depression on the bottom or over sticks and vegetation. The eggs are guarded and tended by the male until they hatch, and the young are herded about in schools until they are able to shift for themselves. Bowfin attain a length of 6 to 8 inches at the end of the first growing season and often reach 2 feet or more at maturity.
The bowfin is primarily carnivorous, feeding largely on fishes of all kinds, frogs, crayfish, large insects and their larvae, leeches and other aquatic life.