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Wild About Illinois Fishes!

Family Amiidae - Bowfin Family

​Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Amiiformes - The bowfin has round scales. Its tail appears to be of equal size in the upper and lower regions. It has a bony plate under the lower jaws.
Family: Amiidae - Bowfins have one dorsal fin that covers more than half of their total length. They have a large bony plate between their lower jaws. The bowfin and gars are remnants of an ancient group of fishes that was ancestral to most of today's fishes. Amia calva is the only living species in this family.

bowfin (Amia calva) Photo © Uland Thomas

Features and Behaviors


The average weight for a bowfin is two pounds, and the average length is 15 to 27 inches. It may live for about 10 years. Small barbels (whiskerlike projections) are present on the upper lip. There is a large, dark spot on the upper tail fin. The body is long and cylindrical with the dorsal fin extending more than half the length of the back. The large mouth has many teeth. The pectoral, pelvic and tail fins are rounded. The dorsal and tail fins have black bands. A large, bony plate is present in the throat. The body is olive-green with a yellow or pale-green belly. The breeding male becomes very colorful. The head does not have scales, and the fins do not have spines.


The bowfin lives in swamps, sloughs and streams, preferring sluggish water with vegetation. This fish is active at night. It reaches maturity at two to three years of age. Spawning occurs from April through June. The female deposits 23,600 to 64,000 sticky eggs that hatch in eight to 10 days. Eggs are placed in a nest that is constructed by the male on the bottom. The male bites, rubs and fans silt and plants away from the site. These actions leave a bed of roots, sand or gravel for the eggs to attach to. The male guards the eggs and young until they reach about four inches in length. The bowfin eats fishes and crayfish.

Illinois Range


​Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Amiiformes
Family: Amiidae

Illinois Status: common, native