List of Types of Pike Species 2023 [Updated]
Pikes and mudminnows belong to the order Esociformes, which contains two families, Esocidae and Umbridae. Generally, when one refers to a pike, they are referring to a species in the genus Esox. In contrast, there are several small pike relatives belonging to either family within Esociformes. This order first appeared in the Mesozoic era, along with the dinosaurs and the ancestors of birds and crocodilians. Esociformes as a group survived massive climatic upheavals and extinction events, with the remnants of this group surviving today.
Species in the Esox genus are generalist predators. Pikes are large, predatory, often piscivorous fish with narrow snouts and mouths full of teeth. In addition to fish, they can consume various prey items and primarily rely on their sense of sight to find food. Most pike species prefer slow, vegetated streams and migrate to shallower streams to spawn. They do not observe any parental care. Mudminnows and blackfish exhibit different strategies.
List of Common Pike Species
1) Northern pike (Esox lucius)
When sport fishers think of a pike, they most often think of the northern pike. This species is a problematic species that has been introduced throughout several states because it is an extremely popular sportfish. It is an aggressive piscivore and an ambush predator that hides amongst dense vegetation waiting to ambush prey. It is such a voracious predator that it is known to extirpate smaller fish species from isolated lakes and rivers, causing severe problems for conservation. Additionally, the northern pike hybridizes with a native Esox species known as the muskellunge. Female hybrids are fertile and can interbreed with muskellunge populations, gradually replacing the native species with hybrids.
This species is common in lakes and reservoirs and migrates to streams to spawn. Eggs are broadcast over weed beds between March and May. During the breeding season, it is best to target northern pike in streams and shorelines, but otherwise, they are commonly found near areas with dense submerged vegetation. They are incredibly aggressive, so care should be taken when handling them. The northern pike hosts a suite of parasites, some of which can infect humans, so they must be thoroughly cooked before eating.
The northern pike is ubiquitous and is of least concern.
2) American pickerel (Esox americanus)
This smaller pike species grows to only around 9 inches (22.9 cm) but may attain lengths of up to 15 inches (38.1 cm), with females larger than males. Their small adult size is the primary indicator that you have an American pickerel on your hands. Young individuals can be distinguished by the presence of a line that runs down the sides of their bodies from their noses to their caudal fin. This line gradually disappears as the fish ages. There are two subspecies, the less common grass pickerel (E. a. vermiculatus) and the redfin pickerel (E. a. americanus). The native range for a grass pickerel is far more restricted than that of the redfin pickerel.
American pickerel prefer warmer waters with muddy bottoms and dense patches of vegetation. While they are typically a freshwater species, they can tolerate some salinity. This species spawns from December to March, where they migrate to shallow streams to deposit eggs and milt. Juveniles are left to fend for themselves, and this species observes no parental care.
The American pickerel is of least concern.
3) Aquitanian pike (Esox aquitanicus)
Discovered in 2014, the Aquitanian pike is the newest member of the Esox genus and a French native. Until this discovery, the Aquitanian pike was considered to be the northern pike, but recent genetic analysis has determined it to be a unique species. This fish presents a greenish-grey coloration over the typical pike body type. There are light stripes and striations along its body. Its fins are orange with black spots interrupting the orange coloration on the dorsal and anal fins.
This species co-occurs in some areas with the northern pike, with which it hybridizes. Hybridization with northern pike and subsequent introgression, when hybrids reproduce with non-hybrid populations, has diluted Aquitanian pike populations in some areas. Given the recency of this species’ discovery, its biology and ecology are not well understood, although it is assumed to be like that of the northern pike.
Given its relatively new distinction as a unique species, the Aquitanian pike has not been evaluated by the IUCN, and this species’ conservation status is unknown.
4) Southern pike (Esox cisalpinus)
Another French native distinguished from the northern pike using genetics is the southern pike. This species was described in 2011, before the Aquitanian pike. Its maximum reported length is around 40 inches (102 cm). There are minor differences between the three pikes in head shape and color morphology, and distinguishing them may be difficult for the untrained eye.
Southern pike like sluggish waters. Therefore, lakes and swamps with dense vegetation make an excellent habitat for them. Without vegetation, this species will use brush and rocks as cover.
Given its relatively new distinction as a unique species, the southern pike has not been evaluated by the IUCN, and its conservation status is unknown.
5) Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)
This species goes by many names: the Allegheny River pike, the barred muskie, and the muskellunge. This species co-occurs with the northern pike and can be distinguished from that species by the number of sensory pores on the bottom of their jaws. For example, muskellunge have 6 – 9 pores, whereas the northern pike has five or fewer. Hybrids, known as tiger muskies, have 5 – 6.
While the muskellunge can occupy various habitat types, it prefers slow-moving, densely planted lakes and large rivers. They spawn over these weed beds. Muskie eggs sink through the water column and stick to vegetation. The eggs can become food for small fish and crayfish. Once hatched, the young muskellunge prey on each other and small fish species. Younger muskellunge are prey to older conspecifics and other large fish like the largemouth bass. As adults, they are voracious predators, consuming fish, frogs, and even ducklings.
This species is of least concern.
6) Chain pickerel (Esox niger)
The chain pickerel is a pike species native to the eastern United States from Texas through states along the Gulf Coast and East Coast up into Canada. In Maine, the Great Lakes, and a few other regions of North America, the chain pickerel is an introduced species and is considered invasive.
While they may look like gar with their pointed snouts and arrow-like body shapes, the pickerels and pikes belong to a different group of fish and are more closely related to mudminnows. They occupy a similar predatory niche as gar, using the same sit-and-wait strategy to catch prey. In addition, they have large, backward-facing teeth that ensure any unfortunate prey items cannot escape. The chain pickerel can sometimes be seen in Kentucky Lake.
Chain pickerel are the smallest Esox species, with an average length of 19.6 inches (50 cm). Males and females pair up to spawn and deposit their eggs over the substrate or patches of vegetation. They can be found in slow pools and deep holes. According to one source, live bait works best for chain pickerel, but crankbaits and spoons might also land you one.
The chain pickerel is of least concern.
7) Amur pike (Esox reichertii)
The Amur pike sports that typical pike body plan with a silvery color and distinct black spots. In its native range, this species is a popular sport fish, growing to around 21.5 inches (55 cm) on average.
During the springtime mating season, adult Amur pike migrate from the Amur riverbed to connected waterways to spawn. This migratory spawning behavior reduces competition between adults and juveniles, and cannibalism of juveniles by adult fish.
The Amur pike is not widespread in the United States and has only been introduced to a single water system in Pennsylvania. This introduction was intentional by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission as a sport fish. Unfortunately, frequent failures led to the cancellation of this project, and it is unlikely that any Amur pike will remain in the United States.
This species is classified as least concern.
8) Olympic mudminnow (Novumbra hubbsi)
Like their larger cousins, Olympic mudminnows can be found in densely vegetated patches of sluggish waters. During the breeding season, this species is brilliantly dark in color with light vertical bars and some iridescent blue coloration near their operculum (the gill covering). Males and females are sexually dimorphic, with males boasting more intense and vibrant barring than females.
Unlike their larger cousins, Olympic mudminnows are small, with an average length of approximately 2.1 inches (5.3 cm), and so are their prey items. Consequently, this species will opportunistically consume a variety of invertebrate prey, from insects to small crustaceans.
Males establish a territory during the breeding season. When an intruder approaches the nest, they conduct a threatening display by flashing their vibrantly colored fins at the intruder. If a female comes to the nest, male mudminnows will perform a ceremonial dance to impress her. If successful, she will deposit a few eggs onto nearby vegetation, and he will continue defending his territory and attempting to impress other females.
This species is classified as least concern.
9) Alaska blackfish (Dallia pectoralis)
Alaska blackfish are darkly colored, mottled fish. They are elongated and almost eel-like in appearance. This species grows slightly larger than the Olympic mudminnow, averaging around 4.2 inches (10.7 cm). They usually hunt at the bottom of vegetated pools for invertebrates and small fish.
This species has been the topic of studies investigating fish air breathing in arctic environments. Alaskan blackfish have a modified esophagus that allows this fish to breathe atmospheric oxygen and survive in low-oxygen environments. They are also remarkably tolerant to freezing conditions.
Another remarkable facet of the Alaska blackfish is its symbiotic relationship with the muskrat. The fish takes advantage of openings in frozen water created by the muskrat, using the opening to breathe in low-oxygen environments. Conversely, the activity of the Alaska blackfish around these openings helps to prevent them from freezing over, reducing the amount of maintenance a muskrat must conduct to keep the holes open.
The Alaska blackfish is not imperiled.
10) Other blackfish (Dallia spp.)
There are two other known species of blackfish, the Amguema blackfish (D. admirabilis) and the Pilkhykay blackfish (D. delicatissima). Both are native to the far peninsula of eastern Chukotka and Beringia. Like the more-well known Alaska blackfish, these species are extremely cold-tolerant and can survive in low-oxygen conditions.
The Pilkhykay blackfish is known to survive in lakes that freeze solid to the bottom, and it is theorized that it can dig into the substrate to survive through the winter when this occurs. This group of remarkable fish has the potential to provide novel insights into the extreme cold and freezing tolerance that can be seen in vertebrates.
11) Mudminnows (Umbra spp.)
Mudminnows are another small group of species in the order Esociformes. Two species, the central mudminnow (U. limi) and the eastern mudminnow (U. pygmaea), are native to North America. In contrast, the European mudminnow (U. krameri), as the name suggests, can be found in Eastern Europe. The two North Americans are generally separated except in the northern reaches of their range near New York, where they may co-occur. Like their arctic relatives, mudminnows are cold-tolerant, tolerant of low-oxygen conditions, and, in addition, can tolerate drought. As with all other Esocids, mudminnows are carnivorous and enjoy a diet of small invertebrates, crustaceans, snails, and more.
Despite this general tolerance for adverse conditions, the European mudminnow faces extreme challenges and human exploitation, resulting in a “vulnerable” status distinction by the IUCN. Loss of suitable habitat and introduced species are the primary driver of their population decline.