Esox niger

chain pickerel






Type Locality

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Lesueur 1818).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name




Esox reticulatus Lesueur 1818:414.



Maximum size: 99 cm TL (Page and Burr 1991).




Counts: Branchiostegal rays 14-17; more than 120 scale rows along body (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Body shape:


External morphology: Opercles with scales covering most of ventral half (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Internal morphology: Intestine long and undifferentiated (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Native to the Atlantic and Gulf Coast drainages as far west as the Red and Sabine basins (Hubbs et al. 2008). Populations on Texas-Oklahoma border may be introduced or relict (Crossman 1978; 1980).


Texas distribution: Red and Sabine basins (Hubbs et al. 2008).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Currently Stable (Warren et al. 2000) in the southern United States.


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Most often found in lakes and ponds, also found in streams (Crossman 1980).


Mesohabitat: Habitat varies from clean, shallow, heavily vegetated shoal water, to deeper parts of lakes, to larger mountain streams; successful in waters with temperatures up to 35°C, pH to 3.8, and salinities to 22 ppt (Crossman 1980). Due to its association with submerged vegetation, structure, and quiet flow, this species moves out of stream channels during flooding events (Ross and Baker 1983).



Spawning season: Late winter to spring (some populations may spawn in fall), usually at 8.3°-11.1°C (Crossman 1980).


Spawning habitat: Large number of small, demersal, adhesive eggs scattered over vegetation or detritus (Crossman 1980).


Spawning behavior: No territory defense, no nest building, no parental care provided to young (Crossman 1980).




Age at maturationSexual maturity reached in 1st to 4th year (Crossman 1980).




Growth and Population structure: 


Longevity: Probably 8-9 years (Crossman 1980).


Food habits: Goldstein and Simon (1999) listed first and second level trophic classifications for this species as carnivore and whole body, respectively; trophic mode – ambush; young fish feed on plankton and immature aquatic insects; adults feed on other fish and crayfish. Crossman (1980) noted the change in diet items with increase in fish size: plankton, to larger invertebrates, to finally fish and other vertebrates (infrequently including mice, salamanders, frogs, and tadpoles); species strongly cannibalistic under certain conditions.


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Esox niger has 14 to 17 branchiostegal rays, while the grass pickerel (E. americanus vermiculatus), also found in Texas, has 11 to 13 branchiostegal rays; these two species differ further in that E. niger has more than 120 scale rows along body versus fewer than 115 scale rows along body in E. americanus vermiculatus (Hubbs et al. 2008). E. niger differs from the northern pike (E. lucius) in having opercles with scales covering most of ventral half, while the latter species has opercles with scales on dorsal half only (Hubbs et al. 2008). E. niger hybridizes readily with redfin pickerel (E. americanus) and northern pike (E. lucius; Crossman 1980).


Host Records



Commercial or Environmental Importance




Crossman, E.J. 1978. Taxonomy and distribution of North American Esocids. pp. 13-26 in: Kendall, R.L. (Ed.). Selected coolwater fishes of North America. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 11, Bethesda, Maryland.

Crossman, E.J. 1980. Esox niger (Lesueur), Chain pickerel.  pp. 137 in D. S. Lee et al., Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Goldstein, R.M., and T.P. Simon. 1999. Toward a united definition of guild structure for feeding ecology of North American freshwater fishes. pp. 123-202 in T.P. Simon, editor. Assessing the sustainability and biological integrity of water resources using fish communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida. 671 pp.


Hubbs, C., R.J. Edwards, and G.P. Garrett. 2008. An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement, 2nd edition 43(4):1-87.


Lesueur, C.A. 1818. Description of several new species of the genus Esox, of North America. J. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 1(2):413-417.


Page, L. M. & B. M. Burr.  1991.  A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico.  Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.


Ross, S.T., and J.A. Baker. 1983. The response of fishes to periodic spring floods in a southeastern stream. American Midland Naturalist 109(1):1-14.


Warren, M.L., Jr., B.M. Burr, S.J. Walsh, H.L. Bart, Jr., R.C. Cashner, D.A. Etnier, B.J. Freeman, B.R. Kuhajda, R.L. Mayden, H.W. Robison, S.T. Ross, and W.C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries 25(10):7-29.