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Southern Redbelly Dace 
HomeFeatured ProductsAquarium InformationNorth American Fish InfoBowfin

Amia calva

This is a wild native  North Amer ican Freshwater Fish which may or may not be suitable for keeping in an aquarium. Information provided is strictly opinion in that respect. If you try to keep them in an aquarium, please do so with care, as wild fish are usually quite delicate and hard to keep in captivity.

The Bowfin,  or  Dogfish, i s an unusual pet. But, remember, it bites. It is a creature of ancient heritage that does well in an aquarium, but its disposition, appetite, and large size make for a single-species tank, at least 20 gallons when small. It should be unheated and decorated with gravel and rock. They eat just about anything live and small enough to swallow, and like earthworms, killies, feeder goldfish and such. They will also eat strips of beef and fish, but be careful with these, and keep the tank clean. The Bowfin will eat its siblings if they are smaller.

Wild, adult Bowfins usually reach a length of about 2 feet and weigh 2-5 pounds, although they may occasionally reach weights of up to 12 pounds.  Be prepared to p ut a single fish in a large tank when it grows.

Millions of years ago the family Amiidae contained many species and had nearly a global distribution. Today, they are the lone survivors of an earlier primitive family of fish known mostly through fossils. 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, covering 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.

They have retained much cartilage in the skeletal system and have bony plates covering the semicartilaginous skull. A distinctive bony gular plate is located on the under-surface of the throat between the lower jaws. The Bowfin's olive-colored body is stout and slightly elongated. Amiais 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.

It is a warm water species that prefers standing or sluggish water with abundant plant growth. They feed on other fishes and invertebrates. Bowfins are spring spawners. 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.

Bowfins feed on all sorts of aquatic animals-crustaceans, adult insects and larvae, and small fish. Generally, they are a scarce fish of no commercial value. They are dogged fighters when caught on sporting tackle, but their flesh is generally considered poor eating. Considered pests by many anglers, they can none-the-less be lots of fun on the end of a line.

The eggs are cultivated as a low grade caviar substitute.

Community tank. Generally peaceful.


Predator. Generally aggressive.

Moderate to bright light. 


Low light.

Moderate to heavily planted tank.


Rock, coral, or bogwood.

Open sand or gravel. Little or no decoration.

Active or surface swimmer.


Likes hideaways and cover.

Live foods, only.

Live, frozen, or prepared foods.


Bowfin Bowfin
Bowfin Bowfin

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