Fish and Aquatic Conservation



illustration of a Northern pike

Northern pike

Esox Lucius (Linneaus, 1758)

Cool Facts

Northern pike are cannibalistic and become so when they reach their juvenile life history stage. Pike feces are avoided by other fish because it contains “alarm” pheromones. Although numerous attempts have been made to culture or rear northern Pike, none have been successful because these fish will not accept artificial food. Northern pike are a highly sought after recreational fish species and also prized for the taste of the white flakey flesh.

SIZE: Northern pike can attain lengths up to 4.5 feet (137 cm) and weigh up to 62.5 lbs. (28.4 kg)

RANGE: Northern Pike are distributed between the Arctic portions of North America, Europe, Asia, and Siberia. Most populations of northern pike are north of latitude 40 degrees north. The range of northern pike in North America extends from Alaska through Canada to the upper mid-western portion of the United States. Northern pike have been widely introduced and transplanted throughout Europe. In some cases, several countries have reported adverse ecological effects resulting from these northern pike introductions.

HABITAT: Northern pike inhabit freshwater, are demersal and can inhabit waters from 0 to 30 m (0 – 100 feet). These fish occur in clear vegetated lakes, quiet pools and the backwaters of creeks and small to large rivers.

DIET: Northern pike feed on invertebrates, fishes, amphibians, small mammals such as voles, shrews and red squirrels, and waterfowl. As a matter of fact, large northern pike are so opportunistic that a bald eagle chick was found in the stomach of a large female northern pike.

Natural History

Northern pike are circumpolar in the freshwater world of the northern hemisphere. Adult northern pike are usually solitary and highly territorial. Spawning adults will begin to move inshore or upstream to marsh areas to spawn as soon as the ice begins to break up or thaw in early spring. Spawning will normally occur during daylight hours in shallow quiet areas with a weed bottom.

Male northern pike begin courting the female pike by nudging her head region. The male northern pike then follows this head nudging behavior with multiple thrusting movements, to entice the female to extrude her eggs. As the female begins to release her eggs, the male pike will simultaneously begin to release his milt and fertilize the eggs as they settle down to the bottom.

The fertilized eggs will then hatch sometime in the next two to five weeks. Upon hatching, young pike will attach themselves to freshwater weeds and live off of their yolk sac while their mouths are still developing. Upon full development of their mouths, the young pike will feed on zooplankton and then graduate to insects and ultimately other fish and other prey.

Conservation

Northern pike are a prized recreational fish in the United States and an important commercial fish in Canada. In the state of Alaska they also comprise an important subsistence fishery.

It has been demonstrated that northern pike can have negative ecological impacts on aquatic ecosystems when introduced into non‐native waters.