Physical Characteristics of the Northern Pike

Physical Characteristics of the Northern Pike
The northern pike is one of the most impressive freshwater fishes in North America, famous for its predatory prowess, striking appearance and fighting spirit. Such attributes make it an immensely sought-after game species across its huge range--and outside it, where it has been widely stocked--in the Northern Hemisphere. More importantly, the pike is an apex predator in the lakes and rivers it inhabits, serving the same essential function as other creatures at the top of their respective food chains.


One of the northern pike's defining characteristics is its great size. Massive individuals may reach five feet and weigh over 70 pounds, although most, especially in heavily fished areas, are much smaller. These maximum proportions lump it with some of the biggest freshwater fish, like its cousin, the muskellunge (which may grow even larger), as well as sturgeon, some catfish, gar and other river and lake giants.


Shape & Fins

The northern pike is shaped roughly like a cigar, with a drawn-out but relatively stocky body. Its single dorsal fin is set well back on the body, close to the rounded tail. Below, the pike has proportionately small, gently-contoured pectoral and pelvic fins, and an anal fin opposing the dorsal.

Coloration & Pattern

The northern pike's body pattern is catered toward concealment: This is, after all, a devoted and effective practitioner of ambush. The brownish green dorsal coloration is laced with light, golden or yellow spots. Such a configuration helps the pike blend in to the murky, shadowed and often heavily vegetated depths it prefers. The muskellunge, superficially very similar in appearance and size to the northern pike, is chiefly distinguished by its vertical barring--it lacks the pike's faint, horizontally planed spots.

Business End

The pike's head, like that of the muskellunge, pickerel and other close relatives, is elongated and almost canine in appearance. Its flattened jaws are long but broad, and studded with an impressive array of sharp teeth. The pike employs its formidable mouth to seize and devour a suite of preferred animal prey: The size of the victim, usually fish but also amphibians, invertebrates and occasionally waterfowl and mammals, is relatively proportional to that of the fish.


Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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