The bowfin is a bony fish (Amia calva, family Amiidae) found in eastern North America. It is a relic species—the sole living representative of the order Amiiformes, which first appeared in the Triassic period more than 200 million years ago.
Members of this family were common in Europe and Asia, as well as North America, during the Cretaceous and the early part of the Cenozoic. Fossil species of the genus Amia occurred in Europe as recently as the Miocene (about 20 million years ago) but this single species in North America is the only one of its group still living.
The bowfin is a relatively common fish in swamps and slow-moving streams in the southeastern United States, and is often caught by fishermen. Often called a grennel or mudfish, it is very bony and seldom used as food if there is an alternative. In appearance it is a rather stout cylindrical fish, with a distinctive bony head and a wide mouth with many sharp-pointed teeth. It differs from most freshwater fishes in having a very long dorsal fin and widely separated pectoral and pelvic fins.
The bowfin preys on other fishes, and because its swim bladder is connected with its esophagus, it can gulp air in situations when the oxygen in the water is depleted. Thus, it can survive in warm isolated pools during a drought and feed on the other fishes that cannot withstand these conditions. The male bowfin builds a circular nest in shallow water and guards the eggs until they hatch. He continues to guard the young for some time. They can be seen following him in shallow water like so many baby chicks following their mother hen.