Alewife
  • Side view of an adult alewife.
  • Side view of an adult alewife.
  • Side view of an adult alewife.
  • Top view: Laterally compressed body, typically 125-200 mm long.
  • Bottom view: Laterally compressed body, typically 125-200 mm long.
  • Head-on view: Laterally compressed body, typically 125-200 mm long.
  • Close-up of flank: Solid silvery body with diffuse spot behind gill covers in most individuals.
  • Close-up of head: Superior mouth with a large maxillary and no barbels.
  • Close-up of mouth and snout: Teeth on jaws are weak or absent, no teeth on tongue, superior mouth.
  • Close-up of tail; the tail is deeply forked.
  • Close-up of dorsal fin.
  • Close-up of anal fin; 17-18 anal fin rays.
  • Close-up of pectoral fin.
  • Close-up of pelvic fin.
  • 41-44 gill rakers on first gill arch, no gular membrane.
  • Scaled, saw-like keel extenting from vent forward to isthmus.
  • Dorsal fin origin ahead of pelvic fin origin; 42-50 lateral series scales.
  • The dorsal fin has 13-14 dorsal fin rays.
  • The anal fin has 17-18 anal fin rays.
  • Juvenile (YOY) alewife. Juveniles are more slender than adults.
  • Juvenile (YOY) alewife. Juveniles are more slender than adults.
  • Yearling: Juveniles are similar to adults but may be less deep-bodied.
  • Yearling: Juveniles are similar to adults but may be less deep-bodied.
  • Head of a yearling alewife.
  • Head of a yearling alewife.
DescriptionSimilar Species
Family
Herrings (Clupeidae)
Body
Mouth and Snout: Slightly superior, upturned, very large obvious maxillary extending almost to the middle of the eye. There are 41-44 closely spaced gill rakers. The teeth are very small and negligible. No barbels. Body Pattern: The body and fins are solid silver. Some individuals have a diffuse dark spot just behind the opercle. Numerous cycloid scales. Body Shape: Laterally compressed, with obvious scales that are vertically elongated. Typical adult size is 125-200 mm TL, with a maximum in the Great Lakes region of about 250 mm.
Fins
One single dorsal fin with 13-14 rays and without an elongated last ray located in the middle of the back. The anal fin has 17-18 rays, and the tail is deeply forked. The pelvic fins are abdominal with axillary processes and located just below the dorsal fin. The origin of pelvic fins is even with or slightly behind the origin of the dorsal fin.
Distinguishing Characteristics
Distinguishing Characteristics: Members of the herring family in Wisconsin have a keel-like belly with projecting scales that it a saw-tooth texture. The alewife has a large, upturned maxillary with teeth weak or absent on jaws and none on the tongue. Dorsal fin typically 13-14 rays, no elongated rays, and origin forward of origin of pelvic rays; typiclally 17-18 anal fin rays. 41-44 gill rakers on first gill arch; no gular membrane; no lateral line, and 42-50 scales in lateral series. See also similar species information.
Breeding Adults
Same.
Juveniles
Juveniles are more elongate and not as deep-bodied as adults.
Hybrids
None known from Wisconsin.
Compare Similar Species
Keel
AlewifeScaled, saw-like keel extending from vent forward to isthmus (gill area)
GoldeyeFleshy keel, lacking scales and not saw-like
Herring, SkipjackScaled, saw-like keel extending from vent forward to isthmus (gill area)
MooneyeFleshy keel, lacking scales and not saw-like
Shad, GizzardSaw-like keel
Dorsal Fin Rays
AlewifeTypically 13-14, no elongated rays and origin forward of origin of pelvic rays
GoldeyeLess than 13 rays
Herring, SkipjackTypically 17, no elongated rays and origin forward of origin of pelvic fins
MooneyeLess than 13 rays
Shad, GizzardTypically 10-12 rays with last ray more than three times longer than adjacent ray and dorsal origin behind pelvic origin
Anal Fin Rays
AlewifeTypically 17-18
Goldeye29-34
Herring, SkipjackTypically 18
Mooneye26-29
Shad, GizzardTypically 27-34
Mouth/Teeth
AlewifeSuperior mouth and teeth on jaws weak or absent
GoldeyeNo teeth on jaws or tongue
Herring, SkipjackSuperior mouth and teeth on jaws and tongue
MooneyeNo teeth on jaws or tongue
Shad, GizzardNo teeth on jaws or tongue
Gill Rakers
Alewife41-44 on 1st gill arch
Goldeye15-17
Herring, Skipjack20-30 on 1st gill arch
Mooneye15-17
Shad, GizzardAbout 190 on 1st gill arch
Gular Membrane
AlewifeAbsent
GoldeyePresent
Herring, SkipjackAbsent
MooneyePresent
Shad, GizzardAbsent
Lateral Line
AlewifeAbsent, 42-50 scales in lateral series
GoldeyePresent, 57-62 scales in lateral series
Herring, SkipjackAbsent, 53-60 scales in lateral series
MooneyePresent, 52-57 scales in lateral series
Shad, GizzardAbsent, 52-70 scales in lateral series
Similarity Index
AlewifeN/A
GoldeyeModerately similar
Herring, SkipjackModerately similar
MooneyeModerately similar
Shad, GizzardModerately similar
Comments
AlewifeAlso moderately similar to deep-bodied shiners of the minnow family (Cyprinella, Luxilus, Notemigonus, Scardinius)
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