Esox masquinongy Mitchill, 1824

Common Name: Muskellunge

Synonyms and Other Names:

Esox ohiensis Kirtland, 1854; Muskie, Musky




Eric Engbretson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceCopyright Info


U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceCopyright Info


Juvenile Muskellunge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceCopyright Info

Identification: Muskellunge, Esox masquinongy, are characterized by their elongate, moderately compressed and slightly flattened body. Oblique stripes, spots or blotches overlay the silver colored body, the belly is white in color with small spots. Fins are green or red-brown with dark blotches. The top of the head is unscaled and the snout is long and duckbill-like. The Muskellunge has a large mouth with strong canine teeth in its lower jaw and on the roof of its mouth. Its tongue features short, sharp brush-like teeth (Becker 1983).

Three subspecies are sometimes recognized: Esox masquinongy masquinongy, a spotted form which occurs in the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes and their tributaries; Esox masquinongy immaculatus, a form with either no pattern or barring which occurs in Wisconsin, Minnesota, northwestern Ontario, and southeastern Manitoba; and Esox masquinongy ohioensis, a form with bars or diffuse spots and blotches which occurs in the Ohio River and its tributaries (Becker 1983).

While similar in appearance to the Northern pike (Esox lucius), Muskellunge can often be distinguished from pike based on coloration. Additionally, Muskellunge have 6-9 sensory pores on each side of their lower jaw whereas Northern pike have 5 or less pores. Muskellunge also have relatively pointed tail fins relative to a Northern pike (Minnesota DNR 2017).  The hybrid Tiger muskie (Esox masquinongy x lucius) is also present in the Great Lakes region, these grow faster and larger than either of the parent species, are characterized by dark stripes on a lighter background, have 5-6 sensory pores and are otherwise intermediate between the two parents in shape and coloring.


Size: 183 cm.


Native Range: St. Lawrence River-Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, from Quebec to southeastern Manitoba; south in the Appalachians to Georgia and in the west to Iowa (Page and Burr 1991). Crossman (1978) gave a distribution map. Although never reported from Mississippi, considering the fact that Muskellunge are (or were) native to the main Tennessee River, the species almost certainly historically entered the extreme northeastern part of that state (Gilbert, personal communication).


Great Lakes Nonindigenous Occurrences: Illinois: Fox Lake, Fox River, Heidecke Lake, Shabbona Lake, Snakeden Hollow Lake, (Smith 1979;ILDNR 1997; Page and Burr 1986); Minnesota: (Phillips et al. 1982; Burr and Page 1986); New York: Lake Canadarago,(Smith 1985); Ohio: (Trautman 1981); Pennsylvania: Brandywine Creek and new impoundments(Kendall 1917; Fowler 1919; Cooper 1983; Raasch and Altemus 1991; Tilmant 1999); Broad River; and Wisconsin: (Becker 1983; Burr and Page 1986).


Table 1. Great Lakes region nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state/province, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Esox masquinongy are found here.

Full list of USGS occurrences

State/ProvinceFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
IL202120211Little Calumet-Galien
MI196219621Brule
WI198319835Fox; Northwestern Lake Michigan; Northwestern Lake Michigan; Upper Fox; Wolf

Table last updated 10/5/2022

† Populations may not be currently present.


Ecology: Muskellunge are typically found in lakes with numerous submerged weed beds but can also be found in clear, sterile lakes with almost no weeds. Lakes with extensive, deep and shallow basins with tributary streams are preferred. Muskellunge are considered a coolwater species preferring temperatures from 0.55°C to 25.5°C despite optimum growth rates occurring at approximately 25.5°C. The species can withstand temperatures up to 90°F. Compared to other species in the same habitat Muskellunge are more tolerant of low oxygen levels (Michigan DNR 2012; Becker 1983).

Muskellunge spawn in the spring in shallow bays. Ideal temperature for spawning is 12.7°C. Eggs are scattered in shallow waters over submerged woody debris or over vegetation. Females produce 22,000-180,000 eggs which take 8-14 days to hatch. Young Muskellunge absorb the yolk sac after hatching and begin to prey on other organisms. Growth is rapid in the first three years, growth rate vary depending on water temperatures and available food. Females tend to grow faster and larger than males. As they grow larger, growth rates begin to level off.. Individuals can live up to 30 years or more (Michigan DNR 2012). Natural hybridization between the Muskellunge and Northern Pike occurs in waters where both species are present resulting in the Tiger Muskellunge. Male hybrids are sterile and females are frequently fertile. Reproduction can be limited by water temperatures below 10°C, fluctuating water temperatures, low oxygen, predation by fish and invertebrates on eggs and fry, prey availability, and hybridization with the Northern pike (Michigan DNR 2012; Becker 1983).

After hatching Muskellunge feed on other fish species including minnows and smaller Muskies. As they get larger, Muskellunge begin to prey on frogs, ducklings, and crayfish. Adult Muskellunge will consume fish up to a third their own length and prefer longer, cylindrical fish to spiny, deep bodied panfish. This preference is attributed to their metabolism which favors a single, large meal instead of multiple small ones (Michigan DNR 2012). Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Rock Bass, sunfish, and other Muskellunge will prey on young Muskellunge. In hatcheries, giant water bugs, diving beetles, and large larvae of some insects were seen to be significant predators of recently hatched Muskellunge.


Means of Introduction: Intentionally stocked for sportfishing. According to Pflieger (1997) this species was first stocked in Missouri reservoirs in 1966 for the purpose of providing another trophy-sized fish and a large predator capable of preying on the many Gizzard shad and other forage fish too large to be eaten by Largemouth bass. Muskellunge found in one Missouri creek had escaped from hatchery ponds (Pflieger 1997).


Status: Reported from above areas, some of which may have established populations. Extirpated in California (Hubbs et al. 1979) and in Georgia, where it has not been seen since 1957 (Dahlberg and Scott 1971b). About 25% of all Muskellunge populations in Wisconsin are the result of stocking (Becker 1983). Crossman and McAllister (1986) reported the species as introduced into the Souris and Red River drainage was a recent one.  They were stocked in the Minnedosa and Assiniboine rivers, both tributaries of the Red River.


Great Lakes Impacts: Esox masquinongy has a moderate environmental impact in the Great Lakes.

Muskellunge survival is usually relatively low and competition with resident fishes is likely low (Wahl 1999). In some fisheries northern pike may outcompete Muskellunge due to the pike’s tendency to spawn as soon as the winter ice is gone. When Muskellunge fry hatch northern pike young are already large enough to prey upon them. However, the species have been seen to coexist in the Great Lakes (Michigan DNR 2012).

Muskellunge and young Largemouth Bass frequent the same habitats, brush piles and beds of vegetation. In two Wisconsin lakes this resulted in the decline of the Largemouth Bass population and an increase of Smallmouth Bass (Becker 1983).

Natural hybridization between the Muskellunge and Northern pike occurs in waters where both species are present resulting in the Tiger muskellunge. Male hybrids are sterile and females are frequently fertile. An artificial Muskellunge x Grass pickerel hybrid has been produced in Ohio (Becker 1983).


There is little or no evidence to support that Esox masquinongy has significant socioeconomic impacts in the Great Lakes.

Esox masquinongy has a high beneficial impact in the Great Lakes.
Muskellunge is a trophy fish which is considered the “premier challenge of freshwater angling,” due to their scarcity, size, and fight (Michigan DNR 2012). Economic value of Muskellunge fishing to resorts, fishing goods stores and other associated businesses is high. Resident and nonresident fishermen spent an estimated $188.5 million in 1960 (Becker 1983).

Because Muskellunge are among the largest of fish predator species they are important for maintaining fish population balance. Increasing growth rates of perch were associated with increased Muskellunge predation. Stocking Muskellunge has also been observed to improve native Muskellunge population, Walleye fishing, and quality of Perch (Becker 1983).


Management: Regulations

Muskellunge appears on the IL list of species approved for aquaculture.

Muskellunge fishing is regulated by state laws and the species is frequently stocked by state agencies. Check with local agencies for specific regulation and management practices.

Note: Check federal, state, and local regulations for the most up-to-date information.

Control


Biological
Northern Pike competition has been observed to impact Muskellunge populations. Lakes formerly containing Muskellunge have become dominated by the Northern Pike after introduction. Coexistence of the species has also been observed (Becker 1983).

Physical

Success of physical control methods have not been studied on Muskellunge.

General  methods of fish control include accelerated water velocity, physical barriers, pressurized hot water/steam, hot water thermal barriers , removal of catch limits, reservoir drawdowns, traps, nets, electrofishing, and combinations of treatments (GLMRIS 2011, Meronek et al. 1996). Patrick et al. (1985) observed that air bubble curtains have been successful in deterring various species of fish—especially when used in conjunction with strobe lights.

Chemical

Chemical piscicides antimycin A and rotenone are general piscicides, the use of which has not been studied on Muskellunge. These piscicides are toxic to other species and can cause non-target kills  (GLMRIS 2012).

Careful consideration should be taken with chemical methods to reduce impact to non-target species.

Note: Check state/provincial and local regulations for the most up-to-date information regarding permits for control methods. Follow all label instructions.


Remarks: Wolter et al. (2013) examined demographics and rate of dam escapement at a reservoir in Illinois, finding 25% of the population escaped over the dam and suggested mitigation practices.


References: (click for full references)

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Author: Fuller, P., Neilson, M.E., and Hopper, K.


Contributing Agencies:
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Revision Date: 4/7/2022


Peer Review Date: 7/7/2015


Citation for this information:
Fuller, P., Neilson, M.E., and Hopper, K., 2022, Esox masquinongy Mitchill, 1824: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, and NOAA Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System, Ann Arbor, MI, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/GreatLakes/FactSheet.aspx?Species_ID=679, Revision Date: 4/7/2022, Peer Review Date: 7/7/2015, Access Date: 10/5/2022

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.