• Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Side view adult.
  • Top view adult.
  • Bottom view adult.
  • Head-on view adult.
  • Close-up flank.
  • Close-up head.
  • Close-up mouth and snout.
  • Close-up tail.
  • Close-up dorsal fin.
  • Close-up anal fin.
  • Close-up pectoral fin.
  • Close-up pelvic fin.
  • Close-up dorsal fin: Notice the long dorsal fin.
  • Close-up anal fin: Notice the short anal fin and the ocellus on the upper base of the tail.
  • Side view: Notice the long dorsal fin, the short anal fin, and the abdominal pelvic fins.
  • Close-up tail: Notice the heterocercal, rounded tail.
  • View of underside of head: Notice the gular plate.
  • Side view of breeding male: Note the greenish color on the ventral surface.
  • Tail region of breeding male: Note the green anal fin and the prominent ocellus outlined in yellow.
  • Pelvic fins of a breeding male.
  • Pelvic and pectoral fins of a breeding male.
  • Side view of a young-of-year: Note the orangish fins with black margins and the wavy lines on the head.
  • Tail area of a young-of-year.
  • Head area of a young-of-year.
  • Side view of a young-of-year in fall: Note the mottling and ocellus.
  • Alternate side view of an adult.
  • Alternate side view of an adult.
  • Alternate side view of an adult.
DescriptionSimilar Species
Bowfins (Amiidae)
Mouth and Snout: Large terminal mouth with numerous inconspicuous teeth. Prominent nostrils on snout, and prominent gular plate on chin. No barbels. Body Pattern: Mottled dark brown or black on golden olive background, with a cream or white belly. Large ocellus (eye spot) at dorsal base of tail. Mottling and ocellus may be faded in large specimens yielding an essentially solid color pattern. Median fins with dark stripes or mottling. Ocellus is usually more obvious in younger fish. Females lose the ocellus as they mature, males do not. The scales are thick and formed in a rounded polygon shape. Body Shape: The body is moderately long, stout and oval in cross-section. Typical adult size is 400-700 mm, with a maximum of about 1000 mm (2 feet).
Heterocercal tail, but rounded. Single long dorsal fin with no spines, extending about half the length of the body. Pelvic fins abdominal. No adipose fin.
Distinguishing Characteristics
The bowfin can be distinguished by its long single dorsal fin (length of longest ray much shorter than length of fin base) without spines, short anal fin (length of longest ray greater than length of fin base). Abdominal pelvic fins, rounded heterocercal tail, obvious scales, gular plate on lower jaw and no barbels. See also similar species infomation.
Breeding Adults
Breeding males and females develop a bright green cast. Bright green pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins; yellowish green ventral surface; ocellus pronounced.
Tail and dorsal fin orangeish with a black margin. Three black lines on head radiating from eye. Juveniles show more distinctive coloration with a much stronger mottling pattern.
None known from Wisconsin.
Compare Similar Species
Dorsal Fin
BowfinLong single dorsal fin (length of longest ray much shorter than length of fin base) without spines
BurbotTwo dorsal fins (first short, second long) without spines
Anal Fin
BowfinShort (length of longest ray greater than length of fin base)
Pelvic Fin
Tail Shape
BowfinRounded heterocercal
BurbotRounded homocercal
Gular Plate
BowfinOn lower jaw
BurbotNo gular plate
BurbotSmall barbel on chin
Similarity Index
BurbotSlightly similar