Bowfins are an order (Amiiformes) of primitive ray-finned fish. Only one species, the bowfin (Amia calva), of family Amiidae, survives today, although additional species in six families are known from Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Eocene fossils. The bowfin, the gar, and the sturgeons are among the few extant freshwater fish that were contemporaries of the dinosaurs.
Bowfins are found throughout eastern North America, typically in slow-moving backwaters, canals and ox-bow lakes. When the oxygen level is low (as often happens in still waters), the bowfin can rise to the surface and gulp air into its swim bladder, which is lined with blood vessels and can serve as a lung.
The most distinctive characteristic of the bowfin is its very long dorsal fin consisting of 145 to 250 rays, and running from mid-back to the base of the tail. The caudal fin is a single lobe, though heterocercal. They can grow up to 109 centimetres (43 in) in length, and weigh 9.75 kilograms (21.5 lb). Other noticeable features are the black "eye spot" usually found high on the caudal peduncle, and the presence of a gular plate. The gular plate is a bony plate located on the exterior of the lower jaw, between the two sides of the lower jaw bone.
The bowfin is an indiscriminate predator that readily preys on a broad variety of arthropod and vertebrate prey, from insects and crawfish to other fish and frogs.
The male bowfin exhibits extensive parental care. The male clears an area in the mud for the female to lay eggs in, and then fertilizes them. He hovers nearby and aggressively protects the eggs and the fry after they emerge.
Bowfin are usually not considered a good food fish compared to more popular freshwater gamefish species, such as pike or trout. They are generally regarded as trash fish by sportsmen in the United States, because they eat more desirable species, including crayfish. They will occasionally strike - and sometimes ruin with their powerful jaws - artificial lures, but they generally strike on live or cut fishes. When hooked, Bowfin fight powerfully. Bowfin should be handled carefully, as they have very sharp teeth. They will continue to struggle even when pulled out of the water, and will attempt to bite anyone who is handling them.
The list of local and alternate names the bowfin is known by is lengthy, but common ones include "dogfish", "mudfish", "grindle" (or "grinnel"),"swamp muskie", "black fish", "cottonfish" "swamp bass", "poisson-castor", "Speckled Cat" "beaverfish", "Cypress trout" and "lawyer". In parts of Louisiana they are called "tchoupique" or "choupique".