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Sander vitreus

What do they look like?

The name walleye refers to the glassy, large pupils of this fish; light reflects from the back of their eyes, giving them a white, staring look. This eye-shine allows the fish to see extraordinarily well in darker waters. Both males and females look the same. Walleyes are long and slim; brownish-green or silver above to creamy white below with dark stripes. The lower lobe of the tail fin is white on the edge. Walleyes have huge mouths with long, pointed teeth. They have two dorsal fins on their back, with a large, noticable black spot at the bottom of the first fin.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    2.0 to 10.0 kg
    4.41 to 22.03 lb
  • Range length
    107.0 (high) cm
    42.13 (high) in

Where do they live?

Walleye are native to the Nearctic Region. Walleye are abundant in many lakes and larger rivers over much of North America, from the Northwest Territories across Canada east of the Rocky Mountains to Labrador, southward along the Atlantic Coast to North Carolina, west to Arkansas, and north along the Missouri River. (Froese and Pauly, eds., 2002; Phillips, et al., 1982; Tomerelli, 1990)

What kind of habitat do they need?

The walleye lives its entire life in water. They prefer to live in deep lakes and rivers up to 27 meters deep, but will swim into shallow flats to feed during early evening and night. They like clear water and are only rarely found in brackish water.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range depth
    27.0 (high) m
    88.58 (high) ft

How long do they live?

In southern areas, walleye may live 10 to 12 years but in northern waters they may live to be more than 20 years old

How do they behave?

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

Walleye are strictly carnivorous, only eating animals. Young walleye eat microscopic organisms that drift in the water called zooplankton. As they get older, they mostly eat other fishes such as yellow perch and freshwater drum. Walleye also eat aquatic insects, crayfish, snails, and mudpuppies (a kind of salamander). They even eat small mammals when fish and insects are not available. Feeding occurs at night.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
    • eats non-insect arthropods

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Adult walleye are top predators, which means that they do not have any natural predators in their habitat except humans. Humans do catch and eat adult walleye. The eggs and young fish are susceptible to predation by other fish such as white bass, muskellunge, white perch, largemouth bass, northern pike, and catfish. Young walleye avoid predation by staying near cover.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Walleye are top predators. Once they reach adulthood, they primarily eat other animals and are not themselves eaten (except by people). They compete for food with other fish that are predators, including smallmouth bass and white perch.

How do they interact with us?

The walleye supports a large fishing industry, particularly in the Central U.S. and Great Lakes area. Since the walleye is a native predator, it has also been used in conservation efforts to help control populations of other animals.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Overall, walleye are not threatened or endangered. Populations of walleye are managed by humans as a game fish. One subspecies, Sander vitreus (blue pike) is believed to have gone extinct recently.

Some more information...

The walleye is the state fish of Minnesota and by far the most popular fish in that state.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Robin Street (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Froese, R., D. Pauly, eds.. 2002. "Fishbase" (On-line). Accessed March 23, 2002 at

Galarowicz, T., D. Wahl, B. Herendeen. 1999. "Illinois Natural History Survey:Development of an Individual-based Model to Evaluate Growth and Survival of Walleye" (On-line). Accessed 2 April 2002 at

Lake Erie Walleye Magazine, 2001. "The walleye fact file" (On-line). Accessed 2 April 2002 at

Ontario Fishing Network, Date unknown. "Lake Nipissing Walleye Fishing Biology and Life Cycle" (On-line). Accessed 2 April 2002 at

Phillips, , Schmid, Underhill. 1982. Fishes of the Minnesota Region. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Tomerelli, J. 1990. Fishes of the Central United States. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Street, R. 2002. "Sander vitreus" (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.
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