Why is the Bowfin Green?

Can you guess why the bowfin is emerald green?

Jake holding a French River Delta, Northern Ontario male Bowfin in spring colours

French River Male Bowfin in spring mating green colour

Bowfin or sometimes referred to as “Dogfish” come in a variety of shapes and at times colours. Their bodies are generally cylindrical and eel like in appearance. Normally their sides and back  can be olive to brownish in colour with vertical bars for camouflaged pattern.  Their underbellies are a whitish-cream colour like most other freshwater fish in Northern Ontario such as this bowfin below.

But, why the brighter emerald-greenish colour you ask?

Just like mergansers and other various species of birds, who strut their brilliant plumage. Spawning.

Out of mating season, male bowfin (especially younger ones) can be quickly identified by the yellow ring around the black dot near their tails whereas the females lack this distinct ring. Though when conditions are met between age (2 – 3 years minimum) and water temperatures, the males make a physiological change in appearance to attract females for spawn.

The males make a nest in freshwater vegetation and courtship begins when females approach them. Courtships can last for hours and females leave their male counterparts the fertilized eggs to take care of. As a side note, it is not unusual for these fish to have multiple partners as females can lay up to 64,000 eggs, leaving clutches of eggs in various nests.

Bowfin range in Ontario Canada, Encompasses French River, Ontario Fish Species Map

Concentration of Bowfin in Ontario and the surrounding Great Lakes as provided previously by Ontario Fish Species.
By: Joe Barefoot, M.B.


  1. Stephen T. Ross (2001). The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 94. ISBN 978-1-57806-246-1.
  2. Randy Jackson. “The Bowfin: New York’s Disrespected Living Fossil”. New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
  3. Freshwater Fishes of South Carolina. Univ of South Carolina Press. 2009. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-57003-680-4.
  4. Ontario Fish Species, July 2017
  5. Bowfin. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2017, from https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/85755.html

Your hosts, Art & Brenda Barefoot

Bear's Den Lodge

2870J Hartley Bay Rd.
Alban, Ont. P0M 1A0
Tel: (705) 857-2757

Winter Address:

124 Shagbark Rd.
Alum Bank, PA 15521
Tel: (814) 839-2443

Connect with us