Lota lota (Eigenmann & Eigenmann, 1892): burbot

Biological Description

Body extremely elongate, eel-like, and rounded anterior to the anal fin, strongly compressed laterally posterior to the anus; lateral line complete, scales cycloid, very small, embedded. Head small, broad, and depressed; mouth large, teeth in many rows on jaws and vomer; eye small; a single, slender chin barbel; anterior nostrils with a short barbel. Dorsal fin in two parts, first dorsal short, 11 to 14 rays, second dorsal base long, 70 to 79 rays; caudal fin rounded; anal fin base long, 58 to 76 rays; pelvic fins below and anterior to pectoral fins, second ray long and somewhat threadlike; pectoral fins rounded. Color of back is dark olive to brown, marbled with contrasting brown or black; side lighter; belly yellowish white; fins mottled.

Life History

Spawning occurs during winter (late January and early February), when water temperature is about 35° F. Spawning occurs at night in shallow bays over a sand or gravel bottom. Males arrive at the spawning area before females. Egg prodution is great, increasing from 64,498 for a 12-inch female to 1,444,122 for a 32.2-inch female. Males mature at age 3 at a total length of about 13.5 inches, and females at about 16.5 inches. Burbot feed little if at all during the spawning season.

Geographic Distribution

The natural range of burbot in North America extends over most of the mainland of Canada and the Northern states from coast to coast. It is also fond in Northern Eurasia.

Habits and Habitats

Burbot is a cold water species and prefers lakes or large rivers. In summer it moves into the large deep pools of the rivers or the hypolimnion areas of lakes. Feeding is done mostly at night and they are more active in winter than summer. Young fish are found beneath stones and sometimes are abundant in streams and in the shallows of lakes. Burbot apparently are photonegative and prefer to be near the bottom in areas of low light intensity.


Food of the small burbot consists of the available aquatic organisms such as insects, amphipods, snails, and small fish. As they mature, burbot turn almost exclusively to a fish diet.

Idaho Conservation Status

Idaho Native or Import

Native. It is found only in the Kootenai River system.


The burbot is the only member of the cod family (Gadidae) found in fresh water. Burbot flesh is white, firm, and of excellent quality.


Simpson and Wallace 1982.Wydoski and Whitney 1979. Image Copyright Joseph Tomelleri. Used by permission.