BOWFIN OR DOG FISH

Amia calva, Linnaeus, 1766




For inquiries contact Alan Richmond, Biology Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

Millions of years ago the family Amiidae contained many species and had nearly a global distribution. Gradually members of this very ancient lineage became extinct until today only a single species, Amia calva, remains. Amia's distribution is restricted to North America, covering the majority of the Mississippi basin, extending east along the Gulf Coast, covereing the entire peninsula of Florida and extending north up the Atlantic Coast to the Pennsylvania/New Jersey section of the Delaware River. As with many North American aquatics, Amia migrated east through the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence River basin into Lake Champlain.

This interesting fish was introduced into the Connecticut River drainage of Massachusetts in the 1980's when specimens began to appear in Lower Mill Pond and Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Presumably some individuals migrated down the Mahan River into the Oxbow of the Connecticut River. Individuals were occasionally reported from the Oxbow of the Connecticut River in the 1980's. In July, 1987, an adult specimen was caught in the Connecticut River off the southern end of Second Island in Sunderland, Massachusetts. To date this is the northern most record of Amia in the Connecticut River of Massachusetts.

Amia is an easily recognized fish. It has a single continuous dorsal fin that runs from the mid-body almost to the tail. Amia's tail has a single lobe and appears to be nearly circular. There is frequently a black spot at the base of the tail near the dorsal edge. Amia has a rather large head with two barbels projecting anteriorly from its nose. Unlike most of the other fish, Amia's swim bladder functions much like a lung, allowing this fish to gulp air when dissolved oxygen levels become dangerously low in the weed beds where it lives.

Bowfins seem to prefer slow, sluggish backwaters where they feed on other fishes and invertebrates. In the spring, they breed in weed beds. Males build circular nests from 15 in to about 3 ft in diameter. Unlike nests of sunfish or bass where the male clears a circular depression in the sand, Amia males often build nests in fibrous root mats, clearing away stems and leaves. One male may breed with two or three females. After breeding he continues to guard the nest until the young hatch eight to ten days after deposition. Baby Amia swim in schools and are protected by the male. They retain this schooling behavior until they are about 4 in long.

We would be interested in records of people catching these animals in the Connecticut River. We are most interested in monitoring the distribution of this species in the river and locating spawning areas.

If you have any information, please contact:

Alan Richmond
Biology Department
Morrill Science Center
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003-5810
email: alanr@bio.umass.edu