The northern pike is a medium-sized freshwater fish living in North America, Europe and Asia. These fish have several other names including American pike, Great Lakes pike, jackfish, or simply ‘Northern.’ You can’t really tell from the picture above, but these fish have bright yellow eyes. Their coloring ranges from dark green to brown with around eight rows of yellow ovular spots. Other distinguishing factors for this fish include their long snout filled with sharp teeth and the positioning of the dorsal fin on its back. This fin is close to the tail unlike on most fish where it is closer to the center of the body. These fish also have large head, and this part of their body take up about one quarter of their length! If humans were that way, a six foot (2 m) tall man would have an 18 inch (.5 m) tall head! Northerns are popular game fish partly because of the spectacular fight they put up when caught and partly because of their tasty meat. The northern pike is the state fish of North Dakota.
The average American pike ranges from 3 to 7 pounds (1.3 to 3.2 kg). They also average 24 to 30 inches (60-76 cm) in length. This is the average, and some individuals are much larger and heavier. The record for the largest northern pike is quite controversial. Some say the largest caught measured 58 inches (1.47 m) in length and weighed 68 pounds (30.8 kg). Others say the record holding fish is a smaller one weighing 55 pounds (25 kg) with an unspecified length. In general, the older the fish, the larger it is. Females are also usually larger than males. Most northern pike that weigh more than 18 pounds (8.1 kg) are females.
Northern pike are voracious eaters and will eat pretty much anything. This fact makes them popular game fish as they will attack the line no matter what food is on it. These fish have been viewed eating newts, crayfish, frogs, small mammals, or even ducklings. Although they can swim up to ten miles (16 km) per hour to catch prey, they are primarily ambush predators, capturing prey by surprise. Some of their normal prey includes smaller fish, frogs, crayfish, small mammals, and even birds.
These fish live only in freshwater, but other than that they’re not very picky about their habitat. Cold or warm water, large or small bodies of water, shallow or deep, northern pike don’t really care. They are also flexible to different water clarity and oxygen content levels.
Status and threats
The IUCN redlist categorizes this fish under “Least Concern.” There are no known significant threats to this species. Some minor threats include commercial fishing, use in aquariums, and sport fishing. They are also raised in captivity for commercial use. The adults do not have any predators as they are the top predators in their ecosystems. Eggs and young of this fish are susceptible to predators such as other fish, aquatic birds, otters, and aquatic insects.
Mating and eggs
Northern pike are typically solitary animals except for when it comes to mating. These fish spawn in shallows when the water reaches temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit (4-7 degrees Celsius) or in late March to early April. This spawning lasts for five to ten days, during which the female can lay up to 600,000 eggs. These eggs are sticky and attach to plants. After she is done spawning, the female leaves the spawning area. The male stays behind for several weeks, but surprisingly does nothing to protect the eggs or the young.
The eggs hatch in about two weeks. The young, which grow quite quickly, are only about 1/4 inches (7 mm) long when they hatch. By the fall, the young may be up to 12 inches (30.5 cm) long! Males are ready to reproduce 2-3 years of age, and females are ready to reproduce from 3-4 years of age. These fish can live up to 25 years in their natural habitat, but the average lifespan in the wild is 7 years.
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- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Northern pike – public domain
- Mystery animal – Dr. Gonwouo Nono LeGrand