NANFA-- fwd: Snakehead or bowfin? (Wildbulletin mailing list)
Tue, 18 May 2004 21:13:20 EDT

Snakehead or bowfin?

When Crystal Hedge of Syracuse, Ind. caught a strange-looking fish in a
ditch behind her house she thought she had a snakehead. It looked like one
she saw on the internet.

However, Hedge's two-foot long, dark green, slimy fish with teeth wasn't the
strange, exotic predator from Asia that she thought it was.

It turned about to be a run-of-the-mill bowfin.

Bowfins and snakeheads do look alike, but bowfins are found throughout
northern Indiana. So far, snakeheads are not.

Hedge caught her bowfin May 10 while fishing with a night-crawler in Skinner
Ditch, a tributary to Turkey Creek just outside Lake Wawasee.

"It's getting more common for anglers to catch a bowfin and think they have
a snakehead," said Jed Pearson, DNR fisheries biologist. "Snakeheads have
been in the news a lot lately and are showing up in other parts of the

According to Pearson, both species have rounded tails and long dorsal fins
that stretch out along their backs. Both live in similar habitats and are
capable of breathing surface air by using their air bladder as a lung. Both
can also survive dry periods by burying themselves in mud.

However, bowfins are generally more greenish in color and have a very short
anal fin. The anal fin on a snakehead can extend more than half the length
of the dorsal fin. The head of a bowfin is more rounded and its upper jaw is
longer than its lower jaw. A snakehead's lower jaw is longer.

Bowfin, also called "dogfish," have a large circular spot just in front of
the tail. The bullseye snakehead does also, but the giant snakehead and
northern snakehead do not have a tail spot.

Bowfins and snakeheads are opportunistic feeders that prey on small fish,
amphibians, even small birds and mammals.

"The bowfin has evolved as a part of our natural lake fish communities and
don't pose an ecological danger," said Pearson. "Snakeheads, like so many
other non-native species of fish and wildlife, do."

As a top-level predator, Pearson says snakeheads could quickly impact local
fish populations through predation or displacement if they became
established in Indiana.

"We've seen a proliferation of non-native, invasive species in the state and
across the nation," said Pearson. "We don't need or want any more."

Pearson says he is glad Hedge saved her fish and called him to have it
checked out. Anglers who actually catch a snakehead should destroy it

See photos of snakeheads at:

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