Skip to Main Content

Ruddy Bowfin

Fact File

Scientific Name: Amia calva

Classification: Osteichthyes, Order Amiiformes, Family Amiidae

Size: Ruddy Bowfin can grow beyond 30 inches in length and 10 pounds in weight in Virginia

Life Span: Ruddy Bowfin often live for about 12 years in Virginia, but can live for much longer under certain conditions

Identifying Characteristics

An image of a ruddy bowfin for identification purposes

Ruddy Bowfin being processed during an electrofishing survey. ©Photo by Scott Herrmann

  • Elongated dorsal (top) fin along the back, with a distinct disconnect from the caudal (tail) fin
  • Short anal fin
  • A mouth full of razor sharp teeth
  • A stout body, cylindrical in shape, with armorlike scales 
  • No scales on head
  • Dark brown to olive on top, transitioning to a cream underbelly
  • Spawning individuals may have chartreuse on the fins, head, or underbelly
  • Males commonly have an outlined black spot near their tail

How to Discern from Similar Looking Species

Northern Snakehead Channa argus

  • The anal (bottom) fin on a Ruddy Bowfin is not elongated
  • Ruddy Bowfin do not have scales on the top of their head while Northern Snakehead do
A Northern Snakehead. Note the elongated anal fin, scales on head, and snakelike patterning.

A Northern Snakehead. Note the elongated anal fin, scales on head, and snakelike patterning.


The Ruddy Bowfin is a top-level predator in the waters they inhabit. Using a combination of speed, suction, and rows of razor sharp teeth, they prey heavily upon other species of fish.


Ruddy Bowfin are native to Virginia’s coastal plain waters east of the Blue Ridge.


Ruddy Bowfin thrive in lazy side-channels and backwaters that have an abundance of cover. Ruddy Bowfin can often be found near submerged structures such as downed trees, stumps, and Cypress knees. They will also utilize undercut banks and submerged aquatic vegetation.


The Ruddy Bowfin spawns in shallow vegetated areas from April to June in Virginia. The male Ruddy Bowfin builds a nest or multiple nests by using their fins to clear away vegetation and create a slight depression in the substrate. Once a female has deposited eggs that the male has fertilized, the male Ruddy Bowfin will defend the nesting site.

A juvenile Ruddy Bowfin. ©Madison Cogar - DWR

A juvenile Ruddy Bowfin. ©Madison Cogar – DWR

Last updated: May 14, 2024

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Species Profile Database serves as a repository of information for Virginia’s fish and wildlife species. The database is managed and curated by the Wildlife Information and Environmental Services (WIES) program. Species profile data, distribution information, and photography is generated by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, State and Federal agencies, Collection Permittees, and other trusted partners. This product is not suitable for legal, engineering, or surveying use. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources does not accept responsibility for any missing data, inaccuracies, or other errors which may exist. In accordance with the terms of service for this product, you agree to this disclaimer.