DOGFISH and lawyer are other names commonly
used for this fish. The name, dogfish, is unfortunate because it
properly belongs to a small shark. Likewise, the name, lawyer is
inappropriate because it is applied to the burbot.
The bowfin (Amia calva) may be
distinguished from all other fishes of the region it inhabits by
the long dorsal fin which arches in a bow over most of the
length of the back. The tail fin is abbreviate heterocercal in
shape The body is robust, almost cylindrical and covered with
smooth cycloid scales. These are smooth edged scales,
The head is flattened on top, and the mouth
is large and provided with sharp teeth, strongly set in the
jaws. There is a unique, bony plate at the front of the under
surface of the lower jaw. Among our freshwater fishes, this bony
plate is found only in the bowfin. Like the longnose gar
this fish is capable of breathing air.
The back of the fish is dark olive-brown,
shading to a cream or yellow colouration on the belly. During
the breeding season, the fins are a vivid green colour, and a
mark on the caudal fin, called the ocellus, becomes much more
intensely coloured. In the adult male, this spot is rimmed with
The bowfin occurs in the St. Lawrence drainage, through
the Great Lakes (excepting Lake Superior) to Minnesota,
southward in the Gulf drainage to Texas and Florida, and north
in the Atlantic coastal plain to the Carolinas.
Like the gars, the bowfin prefers sluggish, weedy
waters. An example of the habitat preference is their abundance
in the cattail marshes around the southwestern shore of Lake
Erie, as compared with their relatively rare occurrence around
the rocky Erie islands (Langloislls).
Movements: The long dorsal fin has an
undulating movement and is often used to propel the body
forward. In May and June, the bowfin resort to weedy bays and
marshes to spawn. Females can hold up to 64,000 eggs.
Photos by Mike McDermott