Northern pike

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The northern pike (''Esox lucius'') is a
species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, molecular interactions, Physiology, physiological mechanis ...

of carnivorous
fish Fish are Aquatic animal, aquatic, craniate, gill-bearing animals that lack Limb (anatomy), limbs with Digit (anatomy), digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and Chondrichthyes, cartilaginous and bony fish as we ...

of the genus ''
Esox ''Esox'' is a genus Genus (plural genera) is a taxonomic rank Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also refer to a s ...
'' (the pikes). They are typical of
brackish Brackish water, also sometimes termed brack water, is water occurring in a natural environment having more salinity File:IAPSO Standard Seawater.jpg, upInternational Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans (IAPSO) standard seawater. ...
and
fresh water Fresh water (or freshwater) is any naturally occurring water Water is an Inorganic compound, inorganic, Transparency and translucency, transparent, tasteless, odorless, and Color of water, nearly colorless chemical substance, which is ...

s of the
Northern Hemisphere The Northern Hemisphere is the half of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. About 29% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continent A continent is one of s ...

(''i.e.''
holarctic The Holarctic realm is the name for the biogeographic realm that encompasses the majority of habitats found throughout the northern continents of the world, combining Alfred Wallace's Palearctic zoogeographical region, consisting of North Afric ...
in distribution). They are known simply as a pike in
Britain Britain usually refers to: * United Kingdom, a sovereign state in Europe comprising the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands * Great Britain, the largest island in the United Kingdom * Ro ...

,
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster-Scots: ) is an island upright=1.15, Great_Britain.html"_;"title="Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain">Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain_(right),_are_large_islands_of_north-west_Europe image:Small_Island_in ...

, and most of Eastern Europe,
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocea ...

and the
United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., federal di ...

. Pike can grow to a relatively large size: the average length is about , with maximum recorded lengths of up to and published weights of . The
IGFA The International Game Fish Association (''IGFA'') is the leading authority on angling pursuits and the keeper of the most current World Record fishing catches by fish categories. Fishermen who are Game fishing, sport fishers are careful to follow ...
currently recognizes a pike caught by Lothar Louis on Greffern Lake, Germany, on 16 October 1986, as the all-tackle world-record northern pike. Northern pike grow to larger sizes in Eurasia than in North America, and typically grow to larger sizes in coastal than inland regions of Eurasia.

# Etymology

The northern pike gets its common name from its resemblance to the pole-weapon known as the pike (from the
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language spoken after the Norman conquest of England, Norman conquest (1066) until the late 15th century. The English language underwent distinct variations and developments following ...
for 'pointed'). Various other unofficial
trivial name In chemistry, a trivial name is a nonsystematic name for a chemical substance. That is, the name is not recognized according to the rules of any formal system of chemical nomenclature such as IUPAC nomenclature of inorganic chemistry, IUPAC inorg ...
s are common pike, Lakes pike, great northern pike, northern (in the U.S.
Upper Midwest The Upper Midwest is a region in the northern portion of the U.S. Census Bureau's Midwestern United States The midwestern United States, often referred to simply as the Midwest, is one of four Census Bureau Region, census regions of the Unite ...
and in the Canadian provinces of
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton Edmonton () is the capital ci ...
,
Manitoba , image_map = Manitoba in Canada 2.svg , map_alt = Map showing Manitoba's location in the centre of Southern Canada , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , capital = Winni ...

and
Saskatchewan ("From Many Peoples Strength") , image_map = Saskatchewan in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English language, English , capital = Regina, Sa ...
), jackfish, jack, slough shark, snake, slimer, slough snake, gator (due to a head similar in shape to that of an alligator), hammer handle, and other such names as "long head" or "pointy nose". Numerous other names can be found in ''Field Museum Zool. Leaflet Number 9''. Its earlier common name, the luci (now lucy) or
luce Luce may refer to: People * Luce (name), as a given name and a surname * Luce (singer) Places * Luče, a town in Slovenia * Luce, Minnesota, an unincorporated community * Luce Bay, a large Bay in Wigtownshire in southern Scotland * Luce Count ...

when fully grown, was used to form its taxonomic name (''Esox lucius'') and is used in
heraldry Heraldry () is a discipline relating to the design, display and study of armorial bearings (known as armory), as well as related disciplines, such as vexillology, together with the study of ceremony, Imperial, royal and noble ranks, rank and geneal ...
.

# Description

Northern pike are most often olive green, shading from yellow to white along the belly. The
flank Flank may refer to: * Flank (anatomy) The flank or latus is the side of the body between the rib cage The rib cage is the arrangement of ribs attached to the vertebral column and sternum in the thorax The thorax or chest is a part of the ...
is marked with short, light bar-like spots and a few to many dark spots on the fins. Sometimes, the fins are reddish. Younger pike have yellow stripes along a green body; later, the stripes divide into light spots and the body turns from green to olive green. The lower half of the
gill cover The operculum is a series of bones found in bony fish Osteichthyes (), popularly referred to as the bony fish, is a diverse Taxonomy (biology), taxonomic group of fish that have skeletons primarily composed of bone tissue. They can be contrast ...
lacks scales, and it has large sensory pores on its
head Head Sport GmbH is an American-Austrian manufacturing company headquartered in Kennelbach. It owns the American tennis racket brand Head. Head GmbH is a group that includes several previously independent companies, including the original "Head ...

and on the underside of its lower
jaw The jaw is any opposable articulated structure at the entrance of the mouth In animal anatomy Anatomy (Greek ''anatomē'', 'dissection') is the branch of biology concerned with the study of the structure of organism In biology, an ...

which are part of the
lateral line The lateral line, also called lateral line system (LLS) or lateral line organ (LLO), is a system of sensory organs found in aquatic vertebrates, used to detect movement, vibration, and pressure gradients in the surrounding water. The sensory abili ...
system. Unlike the similar-looking and closely related
muskellunge The muskellunge ''(Esox masquinongy)'', often shortened to muskie, musky or lunge, is a species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of b ...

, the northern pike has light markings on a dark body background and fewer than six sensory pores on the underside of each side of the lower jaw. A hybrid between northern pike and muskellunge is known as a
tiger muskellunge The tiger muskellunge (''Esox masquinongy × lucius'' or ''Esox lucius × masquinongy''), commonly called tiger muskie, is a carnivorous fish, and is the usually-sterile, hybrid offspring of the true muskellunge The muskellunge ''(Esox masquin ...
(''Esox masquinongy × lucius'' or ''Esox lucius × masquinongy'', depending on the sex of each of the contributing species). In the hybrids, the males are invariably sterile, while females are often fertile, and may back-cross with the parent species. Another form of northern pike, the silver pike, is not a subspecies but rather a mutation that occurs in scattered populations. Silver pike, sometimes called silver muskellunge, lack the rows of spots and appear silver, white, or silvery-blue in color. When ill, silver pike have been known to display a somewhat purplish hue; long illness is also the most common cause of male sterility. In Italy, the newly identified species ''Esox cisalpinus'' ("southern pike") was long thought to be a color variation of the northern pike, but was in 2011 announced to be a species of its own.

## Length and weight

Northern pike in North America seldom reach the size of their European counterparts; one of the largest specimens known was a specimen from New York. It was caught in Great Sacandaga Lake on 15 September 1940 by Peter Dubuc. Reports of far larger pike have been made, but these are either misidentifications of the pike's larger relative, the
muskellunge The muskellunge ''(Esox masquinongy)'', often shortened to muskie, musky or lunge, is a species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of b ...

, or simply have not been properly documented and belong in the realm of legend. As northern pike grow longer, they increase in weight, and the relationship between length and weight is not linear. The relationship between total length (''L'', in inches) and total weight (''W'', in pounds) for nearly all species of fish can be expressed by an Standard weight in fish, equation of the form :$W = c L^b.$ Invariably, ''b'' is close to 3.0 for all species, and ''c'' is a constant that varies among species. For northern pike, ''b'' = 3.096 and ''c'' = 0.000180 (''c'' = 7.089 enables one to put length in meters and weight in kilograms). The relationship described in this section suggests a northern pike will weigh about , while a northern pike will weigh about .

## Age

Northern Pike typically live to 10–15 years, but sometimes up to 25 years.

# Habitat

Pike are found in sluggish streams and shallow, weedy places in lakes and reservoirs, as well as in cold, clear, rocky waters. They are typical ambush predators; they lie in wait for prey, holding perfectly still for long periods, and then exhibit remarkable acceleration as they strike. They inhabit any water body that contains fish, but suitable places for spawning are also essential. Because of their cannibalistic nature, young pike need places where they can take shelter between plants so they are not eaten. In both cases, rich submerged vegetation is needed. Pike are seldom found in brackish water, except for the Baltic Sea area, here they can be found spending time both in the mouths of rivers and in the open brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. It is normal for pike to return to fresh water after a period in these brackish waters. They seem to prefer water with less turbidity, but that is likely related to their dependence on the presence of vegetation.

# Behaviour

## Aggression

The northern pike is a relatively aggressive species, especially with regard to feeding. For example, when food sources are scarce, Cannibalism (zoology), cannibalism develops, starting around five weeks in a small percentage of populations. This cannibalism occurs when the ratio of predator to prey is two to one. One can expect this because when food is scarce, Northern pike fight for survival, such as turning on smaller pike to feed; this is seen in other species such as tiger salamanders. Usually, pike tend to feed on smaller fish, such as the banded killifish. However, when pike exceed long, they feed on larger fish. Because of cannibalism when food is short, pike suffer a fairly high young mortality rate. Cannibalism is more prevalent in cool summers, as the upcoming pike have slow growth rates in that season and might not be able to reach a size to deter the larger pike. Cannibalism is likely to arise in low growth and low food conditions. Pike do not discriminate siblings well, so cannibalism between siblings is likely. Aggression also arises from a need for space. Young pike tend to have their food stolen by larger pike. Pike are aggressive if not given enough space because they are territorial. They use a form of foraging known as ambush foraging. Unlike species such as perch, pike undergo bursts of energy instead of actively chasing down prey. As such, a fair amount of inactive time occurs until they find prey. Hunting efficiency decreases with competition; the larger the pike, the larger the area controlled by that particular pike. An inverse relation to vegetation density and pike size exists, which is due to the possibility of cannibalism from the largest pike. This makes sense, as the smaller pike need more vegetation to avoid being eaten. Large pike do not have this worry and can afford the luxury of a large line of sight. They prefer a tree structure habitat.

## Physical behavioural traits

Pike are capable of "fast start" movements, which are sudden high-energy bursts of unsteady swimming. Many other fish exhibit this movement as well. Most fish use this mechanism to avoid life-threatening situations. For the pike, however, it is a tool used to capture prey from their sedentary positions. They flash out in such bursts and capture their prey. These fast starts terminate when the pike has reached terminal velocity. During such motions, pike make "S" conformations while swimming at high rates. To decelerate, they, simply make a "C" conformation, exponentially slowing down their speed so that they can "stop". An interesting behavioral trait that pike have is that they have short digestion times and long feeding periods. They can undergo many of these fast bursts to collect as much prey as they can. Pike are least active during the night.

## Reproduction

Pike have a strong homing (biology), homing behaviour; they inhabit certain areas by nature. During the summer, they tend to group closer to vegetation than during the winter. The exact reason is not clear, but likely is a result of foraging or possibly reproductive needs to safeguard young. Pike Diel vertical migration, diel rhythm changes significantly over the year. On sunny days, pike stay closer to the shallow shore. On windy days, they are further from shore. When close to the shore, pike have a preference for shallow, vegetated areas. Pike are more stationary in reservoirs than lakes. A possibility is that lakes have more prey to feed upon, or possibly in reservoirs prey will ultimately cross paths with the pike. As such, this could be a form of energy conservation. Pike breed in the spring. Pike are physically capable of breeding in the wild, breeding at an age of about two years, Spawn (biology), spawning in spring when the water temperature first reaches about . They have a tendency to lay a large number of eggs. A likely explanation for such actions are to produce as many surviving offspring as possible, as many most likely die early in life. In females, the gonads enlarge when it is time to shed her eggs. However, after they are shed, these eggs will not hatch if the water is below . Male pike arrive to the breeding grounds before females do, preceding them by a few weeks. In addition, the males stay after the spawning is finished. Parental stock is vital for pike success. Egg survival has been shown to be positively correlated with number of eggs laid. For breeding, the more stable the water, the greater the fitness of the pike. Mortality results from toxic concentrations of iron or rapid temperature changes, and adult abundance and the strength of the resulting year classes are not related. It is based upon two points of development: one during embryo stage between fertilization and closure of the blastopore, and the second between hatching and the termination of the alevin stage. The colour of the sticky eggs is yellow to orange; the diameter is . The embryos are in length and able to swim after hatching, but stay on the bottom for some time. The embryonic stage is five to 16 days, dependent on water temperature (at and , respectively). Under natural circumstances, the survival from Fish larva, free-swimming larva to 75-mm pike is around 5%.

# Feeding

The young, free-swimming pike feed on small invertebrates starting with daphnia, and quickly move on to bigger prey, such as the isopods asellus or gammarus. When the body length is , they start feeding on small fish. A pike has a very typical hunting behaviour; it is able to remain stationary in the water by moving the last fin rays of the dorsal fins and the pectoral fins. Before striking, it bends its body and darts out to the prey using the large surface of its caudal fin, dorsal fin, and anal fin to propel itself. The fish has a distinctive habit of catching its prey sideways in the mouth, immobilising it with its sharp, backward-pointing teeth, and then turning the prey headfirst to swallow it. For larger prey, the pike will usually attempt to drown the prey before carrying it off to be consumed. It eats mainly fish and frogs, but also small mammals and birds fall prey to pike. Young pike have been found dead from choking on a pike of a similar size, an observation referred to by the renowned English poet Ted Hughes in his famous poem "Pike". Northern pike also feed on insects, crayfish, and leeches. They are not very particular and eat spiny fish like perch, and will even take fish as small as sticklebacks if they are the only available prey. Pike have been observed hunting and attempting to eat larger waterbirds, such as an incident in 2016 when an individual was observed trying to drown and eat a great crested grebe, as well as an incident the previous year where an attack by a large pike between three and four feet long was implicated as a possible cause for the injury and death of an adult mute swan on Lower Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, but it is generally believed that such attacks are only rare occurrences. The northern pike is a largely solitary Predatory fish, predator. It Fish migration, migrates during a spawning season, and it follows prey fish like common roaches to their deeper winter quarters. Sometimes, divers observe groups of similar-sized pike that cooperate some to start hunting at the same time, so "wolfpack" theories are given. Large pike can be caught on dead immobile fish, so these pike are thought to move about in a rather large territory to find food. Large pike are also known to cruise large water bodies at a few metres deep, probably pursuing schools of prey fish. Smaller pike are more of ambush predators, probably because of their vulnerability to cannibalism. Pike are often found near the exit of culverts, which can be attributed to the presence of schools of prey fish and the opportunity for ambush. Being potamodromous, all esocids tend to display limited migration, although some local movement may be of key significance for population dynamics. In the Baltic, they are known to follow herring Shoaling and schooling, schools, so have some seasonal migration.

# Importance to humans

Although it is generally known as a "sporting" quarry, some Angling, anglers release pike they have caught because the flesh is considered bony, especially due to the substantial (epipleural) "Y-bones". The white and mild-tasting flesh of pikes nonetheless has a long and distinguished history in cuisine and is popular fare in Europe and parts of North America. Among fishing communities where pike is popular fare, the ability of a filleter to effectively remove the bones from the fillets while minimizing the amount of flesh lost in the process (known as "de-boning") is a highly valued skill. There are methods for filleting pike and leaving the "y-bones" in the fish's body, this does leave some flesh on the fish but avoids the sometimes difficult process of "de-boning". Larger fish are more easily filleted (and much easier to de-bone), while smaller ones are often processed as forcemeat to eliminate their many small bones, and then used in preparations such as quenelles and fish mousses. Historical references to cooking pike go as far back as the Ancient Rome, Romans. Fishing for pike is said to be very exciting with their aggressive hits and aerial acrobatics. Pike are among the largest North American freshwater game fish. Because of their prolific and predatory nature, laws have been enacted in some places to help stop the spread of northern pike outside of their native range. For instance, in California, anglers are required by law to remove the head from a pike once it has been caught. In Alaska, pike are native north and west of the Alaska Range, but have been illegally introduced to south-central Alaska by game fishermen. In south-central Alaska, no limit is imposed in most areas. Pike are seen as a threat to native wild stocks of Oncorhynchus, salmon by some fishery managers. Notably in Britain and Ireland, pike are greatly admired as a sporting fish and they are returned alive to the water to safeguard future sport and maintain the balance of a fishery. The Pike Anglers Club has campaigned to preserve pike since 1977, arguing that the removal of pike from waters can lead to an explosion of smaller fish, and to ensure pike removal stops, which is damaging to both the sport fishery and the environment.

## In mythology

In the Finnish epic poetry ''Kalevala'', wise demigod Väinämöinen creates a magical kantele (string instrument) from the jawbone of a giant pike.

# Geographic distribution

''Esox lucius'' is found in fresh water throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including Russia, Europe, and North America. It has also been introduced to lakes in Morocco, and is even found in brackish water of the Baltic Sea, but they are confined to the low-salinity water at the surface of the sea, and are seldom seen in brackish water elsewhere. Within North America, northern pike populations are found in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York (state), New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, northern Texas, northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, Alaska, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories,
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton Edmonton () is the capital ci ...
,
Saskatchewan ("From Many Peoples Strength") , image_map = Saskatchewan in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English language, English , capital = Regina, Sa ...
,
Manitoba , image_map = Manitoba in Canada 2.svg , map_alt = Map showing Manitoba's location in the centre of Southern Canada , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , capital = Winni ...

, Ontario, and Québec (pike are rare in British Columbia and east coast provinces). Watersheds in which pike are found include the Ohio River, Ohio Valley, the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, and the Great Lakes Basin. They are also stocked in, or have been introduced to, some western lakes and reservoirs for sport fishing, although some fisheries managers believe this practice often threatens other species of fish such as Bass (fish), bass, trout, and salmon, causing government agencies to attempt to exterminate the pike by poisoning lakes, such as Stormy Lake, Alaska. ''E. lucius'' is a severe invasive species, invasive predator in Box Canyon Dam (Washington), Box Canyon Reservoir on the Pend Oreille River in northeastern Washington (state), Washington.

# Sport fishing

Pike angling is becoming an increasingly popular pastime in Europe. Effective methods for catching this hard-fighting fish include dead baits, lure fishing, and jerk baiting. They are prized as game fish for their determined fighting. Lake fishing for pike from the shore is especially effective during spring, when the big pike move into the shallows to Spawn (biology), spawn in weedy areas, and later many remain there to feed on other spawning coarse fish species to regain their condition after spawning. Smaller jack pike often remain in the shallows for their own protection, and for the small fish food available there. For the hot summer and during inactive phases, the larger female pike tend to retire to deeper water and/or places with better cover. This gives the boat angler good fishing during the summer and winter seasons. Trolling (fishing), Trolling (towing a fairy or bait behind a moving boat) is a popular technique. The use of float tubes has become a very popular way of fishing for pike on small to medium-sized still waters. Fly fishing for pike is another eligible way of catching these fish, and the float tube is now recognized as an especially suitable water craft for pike fly-fishing. Also they have been caught this way by using patterns that imitate small fry or invertebrates. In recent decades, more pike are released back to the water after catching (catch and release), but they can easily be damaged when handled. Handling those fish with dry hands can easily damage their mucus-covered skin and possibly lead to their deaths from infections. Since they have very sharp and numerous teeth, care is required in unhooking a pike. Barbless trebles are recommended when angling for this species, as they simplify unhooking. This is undertaken using long forceps, with 30-cm artery clamps the ideal tool. When holding the pike from below on the lower jaw, it will open its mouth. It should be kept out of the water for the minimum amount of time possible, and should be given extra time to recover if being weighed and photographed before release. If practicing live release, calling the fish "caught" when it is alongside a boat is recommended. Remove the hook by grabbing it with needle-nosed pliers while the fish is still submerged and giving it a flip in the direction that turns the hook out of the mouth. This avoids damage to the fish and the stress of being out of water. In Finland, catching a ''kymppihauki'', a pike weighing at least , is considered the qualification as a master fisherman. Many countries have banned the use of live fish for bait, but pike can be caught with dead fish, which they locate by smell. For this technique, fat marine fish like herring, sardines and mackerel are often used. Compared to other fish like the eel, the pike does not have a good sense of smell, but it is still more than adequate to find the baitfish. Baitfish can be used as groundbait, but also below a float carried by the wind. This method is often used in wintertime and best done in lakes near schools of preyfish or at the deeper parts of shallow water bodies, where pike and preyfish tend to gather in great numbers. Pike make use of the
lateral line The lateral line, also called lateral line system (LLS) or lateral line organ (LLO), is a system of sensory organs found in aquatic vertebrates, used to detect movement, vibration, and pressure gradients in the surrounding water. The sensory abili ...
system to follow the vortex, vortices produced by the perceived prey, and the whirling movement of the spinnerbait, spinner is probably a good way to imitate or exaggerate these. Fishing lure, Jerkbaits are also effective and can produce spectacular bites with pike attacking these erratic-moving lures at full speed. For trolling, big Plug (fishing), plugs or Fishing lure, softbaits can be used. Spoon lure, Spoons with mirror finishes are very effective when the sun is at a sharp angle to the water in the mornings or evenings because they generate the vibrations previously discussed and cause a glint of reflective sunlight that mimics the flash of white-bellied prey. When fishing in shallow water for smaller pike, lighter and smaller lures are frequently used. The humble 'woolly bugger' fly is a favourite lure among keen fly fisherman of the southern hemisphere. Fly fishing for pike is an established aspect of the sport and there are now numerous dedicated products to use specifically to target these fish.