Home    Freshwater Ancient Fish    Bowfin


(Amia calva)

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 Quick Care Facts

• Care Level: Moderate   • Temperament: Aggressive   • Maximum Size: 36"
• Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons   • Water Conditions: 59-75° F, KH 3-15, pH 6.0-7.5
• Diet: Carnivore   • Origin: United States, Canada   • Family: Amiidae
• Species: Bowfin   • Aquarium Type: Ancient-Fish

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Species Information

Bowfin native habitat, distribution, behavior & aquarium compatibility.

The Bowfin (Amia calva) is one of the more interesting and sought after North American fish species amongst aquarium hobbyists. Their ancient lineage combined with a sleek body, many teeth and aggressive demeanor make them a sought after specimen for hobbyists running larger temperate water aquariums.

Ancestors of the Bowfin date back to the Jurassic period, where they were once widespread over multiple continents and even in brackish and saltwater environments. Today the Amia calva Bowfin is the only remaining member of this once abundant group of fish. The Bowfin is considered a "transitional" fish species that shares traits with both its ancient relatives and more advanced bony fish species. The Bowfin has a largely cartilaginous skeleton; however, like the more highly evolved bony fishes, the Bowfin also has vertebrae that are amphicoelous (concave at each end).

The Bowfin has a highly developed swim bladder that allows it to gulp air at the waters surface, which is a definite advantage in low oxygen conditions. Like sharks, Bowfin have retractable teeth that remain hidden when the mouth is closed but are exposed when the fish is biting down. The Bowfins skull also flattens out to allow them to swallow flat-bodied fish species like Sunfish and Crappie.

Aquarium Care

How to successfully keep Bowfin in the home aquarium.

Bowfin are generally found living in heavily vegetated rivers, backwaters, swamps and lakes throughout the eastern half of the United States and Canada. They prefer an aquarium setup that has moderate water currents and plenty of both rooted and floating vegetation, some rock piles and open swimming areas.

Their sleek body shape enables them to easily swim in and out of heavy vegetation without issues. Bowfin can reach upwards of 3 feet in length, thus adult specimens will require aquariums of around 450 gallons or larger. Younger specimens can be started in much smaller aquariums and moved to larger tanks as they grow. Moderate feedings and cooler water temperatures will slow their growth rate, with young specimens being able to live in aquariums of 180 gallons for more than 5 years without space issues.

Bowfin are a temperate fish species that prefer water temperatures between 65 and 72 degrees. Tank mates should include only larger temperate water species that are large enough to not be considered food for the Bowfin. Most hobbyists keep Bowfin in a species only aquarium due to their overall aggressiveness and ability to consume very large prey.

Feeding & Nutrition

How to properly feed Bowfin and provide a healthy diet.

Wild Bowfin consume a variety of meaty foods including: fish, crayfish, frogs, worms, insects and other similar prey. Aquarium specimens will readily consume feeder fish, ghost shrimp, crickets and other live feeders. Once acclimated to aquarium life, Bowfin will eagerly approach the waters surface in anticipation of their next meal.

This is an ideal time for hobbyists who wish to ween their fish from live foods to begin feeding prepared foods. Meaty items like shrimp, prawns, mussels, beef hearts and other similar items are ideal to start with, they the Bowfin can be further transitioned to large pellet commercial foods. Young Bowfin should be feed 2 times per day an amount of food that they will consume within a few minutes. Adult specimens can be fed less frequently if slower growth is preferred.

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