BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

American pike

Esox lucius

What do they look like?

Northern pike average 46 to 51 cm (18-20 inches) in length. They can be identified by their single dorsal fin and light-colored spots along their dark body. They are also recognized by scales that cover their entire cheek and the upper half of their gill covers. The sides of northern pike vary from dark shades of green to olive green to brown, with 7 to 9 rows of yellowish, bean-shaped spots. The underside is white to cream-colored.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    0.5 to 1.4 kg
    1.10 to 3.08 lb
  • Range length
    46 to 51 cm
    18.11 to 20.08 in

Where do they live?

Northern pike are native to North America and Eurasia. They are found from Labrador west to Alaska, south to Pennsylvannia, Missouri and Nebraska. In Europe they are found throughout northern and western Europe and south throughout Spain and east to Siberia.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Northern pike are found in almost every type of freshwater, from cold deep lakes, to warm shallow ponds, to muddy rivers. Because they have a broad range of tolerances for water temperature, clarity and oxygen content they are an especially adaptable species of freshwater fish.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

How do they reproduce?

Northern pike are considered random spawners not nest builders.

Spawning occurs in the shallows when the water temperature reaches 4 to 7 degress Celsius (40-45 degrees Fahrenheit). Spawning lasts for 5 to 10 days after which the female leaves. Males remain in the spawning area for several weeks, but do not protect the eggs. At this stage the eggs are vulnerable to predators. The eggs that survive hatch in about 2 weeks. With their insatiable eating habits young northern pike grow rapidly in both length and weight. Males become sexually mature at 2 to 3 years-old and females at 3 to 4 years-old.

  • Breeding season
    Spawning occurs in the spring.
  • Average time to hatching
    2 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 years

Spawning lasts for 5 to 10 days after which the female leaves. Males remain in the spawning area for several weeks, but do not protect the eggs.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning

How long do they live?

Northern pike can live up to 12 years.

How do they behave?

Northern pike are aggressive, solitary fish. They are typically lurkers, but are able to attack quickly. Their eyes are highly movable and are able to see in practically any direction. This is extremely important in tracking their prey. They are considerd "sprint predators"and usually hide in some type of cover, cocked in an "S" position and ready to strike.

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

Northern pike are carnivorous fish. Because they are equipped with sharp teeth and very complex skull and jaw structures, they are able to feed on smaller fish, frogs, crayfish, small mammals and birds.

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Northern pike are top predators in the systems they inhabit. However, the eggs, fry, and young of northern pike may be eaten by other predatory fish, aquatic birds, otters, or by the larvae of aquatic insects.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Northern pike are important as top predators in the aquatic systems where they live.

Do they cause problems?

There are no negative effects of northern pike on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Northern pike are prized game fish throughout their range and are a commercial food fish in eastern Europe.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Northern pike is not currently threatened by extinction. The Departments of Natural Resources in states where they occur keep a close watch on population levels and can increase populations by stocking streams with northern pike raised in hatcheries.


Courtney Egan (editor).

Ryan Lefevre (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Encyclopedia of Fishing 1994. Dorling Kindersley. New York.

Evawoff, Vlad 1980. The Freshwater Fisherman's Bible. Doubleday and Co.

Klein, Stanley 1983. Encylopedia of North American Wildlife. Facts on File Inc.

Sternberg, Dick 1992. Northern Pike and Muskie. CY DeCrosse Inc.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Lefevre, R. 2012. "Esox lucius" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 13, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
Copyright © 2002-2024, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan