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What is a Muskellunge?

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  • Written By: R. Britton
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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A muskellunge, Esox masquinongy, is a large fresh water fish. This species can reach lengths of over 50 inches (1.25 m) and weighs in at over 30 pounds (13 kg). Native to the waters of Canada and the northern United States, this fish is closely related to the northern pike and has a similar appearance. The life span of the muskellunge is believed to be around 30 years. It is a solitary, predatory fish and is notoriously difficult to catch.

Large specimens are sought after by anglers to be mounted and used as trophies because of the difficulty of successfully landing a large fish of this type. Their large, sharp teeth can easily cut through fishing lines; when hooked, the fish vigorously shakes its head, often dislodging the hook and swimming away. It is generally only experienced anglers who successfully catch the muskellunge after many unsuccessful attempts.

A hybrid species, known as the tiger muskellunge, is reportedly much easier to catch. A cross breed between a northern pike and a muskellunge, these fish are unable to reproduce. This means that populations have to be restocked regularly from fisheries to enable anglers to continue fishing this species.

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The muskellunge is the state fish of Wisconsin, and they are commonly referred to as muskies. They have streamlined, muscular bodies, which allow them a powerful burst of speed and the ability to move forwards very quickly for short periods. Despite the quick forward motion, this species has very poor maneuverability, with slow, wide turns and limited sideways motion.

The large mouth, with long, protruding bottom jaw, contains large, sharp teeth, which are used to grip prey and help the muskellunge to extract prey from hiding places. This species swallows prey whole and will eat any other fish, such as sunfish and perch, small enough to fit into its mouth. Often overly ambitious regarding the size of prey, muskellunges frequently attempt to swallow prey which is too large to fit comfortably down their gullet. As the fish attempts to swallow, the intended victim becomes stuck, choking the muskellunge, and in some cases, killing it.

Generally an ambush predator, this species will remain hidden among dense vegetation to ambush passing fish. The nature and feeding habits of this species means that they are generally solitary creatures, although they do come together in small numbers to breed. Like many young fish, juvenile muskellunges are vulnerable to many other larger predatory fish, but adults have few predators apart from humans and large birds of prey.

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