The American Bowfin, Page 3

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Beyond the fighting qualities it possesses and the great interest it holds for the zoologist, the bowfin seems to be almost worthless. The flesh is not considered edible by most people. I have seen the sands of Lake Michigan, at the fishing village at Leland, Michigan, littered with the skeletons of the bowfin thrown to the gulls, which pick their bones clean. Commercial fishermen do not throw away saleable, edible fish.

The bowfin is found only in North America, where it seems to be found, in varying abundance, from Vermont west to North Dakota, and from Florida as far west as Texas. It is generally found in lakes, swamps, or sluggish rivers and streams. In the Great Lakes and connecting waters, it constitutes, in many places, a recognized menace to the young of edible fish, because of its voracity.

There must have been great drama in the life of the bowfin, since it has managed to survive through millions of years. It would be interesting, could we visualize the tenaciousness this fish must have displayed in its struggle to exist, and the readjustment it must have undergone down through the ages, while all the other species of this entire family perished. We know that the bowfin can live several hours out of water under favorable conditions, and is tenacious of life even when placed at the greatest disadvantage. The explanation of this probably lies in the spacious cellular air-bladder, which acts as a lung. For this reason, the bowfin probably has been able to exist in foul, stagnant water by rising to the surface and taking quantities of air, whereas fish without this cellular air-bladder could not exist.

There is nothing particularly unique in the bowfin's protective coloring or method of camouflage that would account for his survival. However, in its care of offspring we may have another factor bearing on its survival. Like most species of fresh water fish, the bowfin moves into shallow water in the spring for spawning purposes. The exact spawning time varies somewhat, as with all fish, depending upon the geographic location and climatic conditions. The bowfin prefers a reedy place, where the nest is made and the eggs are deposited. The nest is guarded by the male, which is smaller than the female, and is easily distinguished by a round black spot, fringed by orange or yellow, at the base of the caudal fin; only the male and the very young have this spot. No particular effort seems to be made by the guardian fish to hide either itself or the nest. The eggs are yellowish in color, and hatch in about a week. Another two weeks is spent in the nest by the larvae and young fish, the time varying, as with all fish, according to the temperature of the water.

So far, there is nothing in the spawning habit of the bowfin that differs greatly from that of many of the teleosts. But at the period when the young are herded together and taken by the male to favorable locations in search of food, the male's care continues, according to Dr. Bashford Dean, until the young attain a length of several inches. The young fishes are thus protected from many of the natural enemies they would encounter were they left to shift for themselves at a smaller size. In this nursing habit, as well as in its ability to exist in stagnant water, may lie the reason for the bowfin's survival.

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