The muskellunge – What’s in a name?

The scientific and common names of the muskellunge have an interesting history. The accepted scientific name, Esox masquinongy, is attributed to S. L. Mitchell, a New York physician. The description of this new species and the introduction of this scientific name are supposed to have been published in 1824. No copy of this publication has been seen at least since 1842 and there is doubt that the 1824 description and use of the name ever existed. The scientific name has passed through stages during which people defined the muskellunge largely on the basis of color pattern, as one species, three species and three subspecies of one species. The concensus now would appear to be that the three semi-distinct groups of populations represent three races of one variable species. It is generally assumed now that these three races, like the three ecotypes of Salmo gairdneri, do not warrant separated scientific names.

Much of the literature in the 1800ss muse be read with great care since the muskellunge and the northern pike were regularly confused and the scientific and common names interchanged. Over the years, there have been at least 94 common names applied to this species. The two most frequent names are muskellunge and maskinonge. The first is now the approved one but the second is still in use in Canada. Many attempts have been made to establish the derivation of these names from Indian words via French pronunciations. It would appear now very likely that the name is Algonquin in origin and represented a spotted kind of pike. The situation is clouded further by the general use today of the name “tiger muskellunge” for the hybrid between the muskellunge and northern pike. That name was first used for the western race of the muskellunge on the basis of the very bold vertical to oblique “strips” characteristics of muskellunge in that area.

The noble muskellunge: A review

Our knowledge and exploitation of the muskellunge have had interesting histories. The species was recognized later, regularly confused with Esox lucius, and the changes in the nomenclature and in taxonomy are almost impossible to follow. The meagre fossil evidence suggests muskellunge occurred in North America at least back to the Miocene, and had a much wider distribution in the past. It may have been a riverine fish originally, only secondarily adapting to standing waters at the end of the Wisconsin glaciers. An extensive, poorly documented commercial fishery which ended in 1936. Probably contributed to an early decline in availability and eventual apprehensive for the survival of the species. Documentation of information began about 1838, increased very slowly to the end of the 1940s, and for some areas of study, doubled during the decade from 1950-1960. The history of the development of information of the muskellunge is summarized in this review paper and suggestions are made on the types of studies which still need to be carried out.

Taxonomy and distribution of North American esocids

Presently, there are four species of native esocids, Esox masquinongy, E. lucius, E. niger and E. americanus and one exotic species, E. reicherti, at large in North America. The four native species now include five named forms, intergrades and natural hybrids. Taxonomic divisions within species are under study. Post-Wisconsin, natural distribution patterns have been changed by man and man is again adjusting the distributional limits of some species by extensive introductions.

Changes in taxonomic concepts of the family and species are traced. The present distribution of each species is given in detail and suggestions are made concerning their distributions in the past and future.

Variation in number and asymmetry in branchiostegal rays in the family Esocidae

In teleost fishes which have high numbers of meristic parts there is great variability. Within the family Esocidae this variability is apparent in the branchiostegal rays. Within populations there often exists up to 23 combinations of numbers of these rays on the epihyoid and ceratohyoid bones on each side of single individuals. There is considerable bilateral asymmetry in both number and arrangement of these rays. Counts of the number of branchiostegal rays on each hyoid segment may prove more useful as distinguishing characteristics than total counts now in use.