Pire (Esox Linn.), the common name of the soft-rayed abdominal fishes of the family eso-cidce. Their headquarters are in North America, only one species being found in Europe and temperate Asia; they are confined to fresh water and to the northern hemisphere. The body is elongated and scaly; there is a single dorsal, generally opposite the anal, but no adipose fin; the upper jaw is formed principally by the intermaxillaries; the mouth is large and well furnished with teeth; there are several covered glandular accessory branchiae, the number of branchiostegal rays varying from 3 to 18; swimming bladder simple; stomach siphonal, intestine short and without caeca; under the skin are vascular ramifications, peculiar to the family. According to Agassiz, the cylindrical elongated form indicates a low position among the abdominal fishes, as also does the mouth, the maxillaries being without teeth, while the palate bones are powerfully armed; the intermaxillaries and the maxillaries are in one arch, as in the salmon family; the skeleton, and especially the skull, is remarkably soft.
The common pike of Europe (E. lucius, Linn.) rarely exceeds 3 ft. in length or a weight of 12 or 20 lbs.; some have been described considerably beyond these, but most are below them; the head is elongated and flattened, the lower jaw considerably the longer; the gape very large; the head and upper back dusky brown, becoming lighter and mottled with green and yellow on the sides, passing into silvery white below; pectorals and ventrals pale brown, other fins darker, mottled with white, yellow, and green; iris yellow. Young pikes, or pickerels, are of a greenish hue, and the colors vary much at all ages. The pike inhabits most of the rivers and lakes of Europe, and was long ago introduced into Great Britain, where it is now exceedingly common; from the 13th to the 15th century it was so rare in England that the price was fixed bylaw, and was generally much higher than for salmon or turbot. The pike is very strong, active, and fierce; it darts from its reedy cover with extreme velocity, swallowing other 'fish, water rats, and even small aquatic birds; Lacepede calls it the shark of the fresh waters; it spares not its own species, and devours its young and even the remains of decomposing carcasses.
Wonderful stories have been told regarding the gigantic size and extreme longevity of the pike, and we can readily conceive that it may attain a weight of 40 or 50 lbs. and an age of 100 years, where food is abundant and anglers absent. Its flesh is well flavored and easy of digestion. Cuvier, Richardson, and others have asserted that this species occurs also in the great American lakes; but on the general principle that the animals of America and Europe, with the exception of the arctic fauna, though nearly allied, have not been found identical species, this may be reasonably doubted; the fish described from America as E. lucius is probably the first of the species noticed below, or else one of the many as yet undescribed. - The common lake pike of America (E. estor, Lesueur) attains a length of 3 ft.;• the back is deep greenish brown, the sides with numerous rounded and oblong pale yellowish spots, and the abdomen white; the fins are reddish yellow, marbled with blackish and deep green, the caudal large and lunated; it is found in the great northern lakes.
The muscalonge or maskinonge (E. nobilior, Thompson) of Lake Ohamplain is larger and rarer, and much better for the table, always commanding a higher price than the lake pickerel, though the latter is often erroneously called muscalonge; the lower half of the cheek is without scales, which is not the case in E. estor. Mr. Thompson (in his appendix to the " History of Vermont," 1853) spells the name masquallonge, deriving it from masque (face) and allonge (elongated), an epithet given to it and other pikes by the French Canadians. This may be distinguished from the lake pickerel by the nearly black color of the back, the bluish gray sides with dark brown rounded markings, its grayish white nbdomen tinged with ruddy, its more robust proportions, shorter head, flatter face, and wider jaws; it attains a length of more than 4 ft., and a weight of 40 lbs. Agassiz describes a large pike from Lake Superior, in his narrative, under the name of E. boreus. The common pike of the northern states, the long or shovel-nosed pickerel (E. reticulatus, Lesueur), attains a length of 1 to 2 ft.; the colors vary in different localities, but in most the body is green above and golden yellow on the sides, with irregular dark longitudinal lines united into imperfect reticulations; lower parts white, flesh-colored on the throat; a black vertical band beneath the eye; dorsal and caudal fins greenish black, the others flesh-colored. This is everywhere valued for the table, and is caught at all seasons, even through the ice; it is taken generally with a hook, baited with a frog's leg, small fish, or any white substance moved rapidly over the surface of the water; it is also speared through holes in the ice, or from boats to which it is attracted by bright lights.
It is a very rapid swimmer, voracious, and strong; like other species it remains apparently motionless in the water watching an opportunity to dart upon its prey, 'which consists of any fish which it can possibly swallow, the spiny perch in most cases excepted; while the body remains suspended, there is an incessant motion of the last few rays of the dorsal and anal fins, especially the former, with a rotary movement of the pectorals, and occasionally of the ventrals and caudal; these forces maintain such an exact equilibrium that the fish does not move in the water. The trout pickerel, or short-nosed pickerel (E. fascia tus, De Kay), is commonly somewhat smaller; the general color is dark greenish, with about 20 narrow blackish brown bands, not forming a network; the throat stained with fuliginous; the body is proportionately stouter and the snout shorter than in the preceding species. This species is found generally in the pickerel weed or in water bushes (cephalanthus occi-dentalis); it is taken at all seasons, but rarely in the deep-water channel like the long-nosed species; it takes the bait eagerly, and makes back into the shallow coverts whence it darted; it bites at any time of day, and whether the bait be at or beneath the surface, moving slow or fast; it is more voracious, if possible, than the E. reticulatus, an individual being frequently landed after having been several times drawn partly out of water; it has been known to take the hook with the tail of a half digested fish visible in its mouth.
Any one who has seen pickerel dart upon fish in an aquarium, and witnessed the force with which they strike the bottom, will perceive what an admirable fender the prominent lower jaw makes; it is frequently much lacerated by violent contact with the bottom, without the upper jaw suffering at all. - The name of pike is sometimes given to the long-jawed marine fish of the allied genus belone (Cuv.); in this the head and body are very much elongated, the latter covered with very minute scales; the long jaws are straight, narrow, pointed, and armed with numerous small teeth. The B. truncata (Lesueur), called the long-jawed or gar pike, is from 1 to 2 ft. long, of a light greenish color above and silvery beneath, with a dark band extending from above the pectorals to the origin of the dorsal; the body is slender, and the head flattened; the dorsal is on the posterior fourth of the body, highest in front and rapidly decreasing toward the caudal; the anal shaped like the dorsal, and opposite to it. It is found in the southern New England and the middle states.
The European sea pike (B. vulgaris, Ouv.), or mackerel guide, so called from its preceding the latter to shallow water to spawn, is about 2 ft. long; it is abundant on the coasts of northern Europe, and is eaten in the spring; it is also used as bait. It is active, swims near* the surface, and often springs out of water. The color above is dark greenish blue, and silvery below; dorsal and caudal greenish brown, and other fins white.
Common Pike (Esox reticulatus).
Gar Pike (Belone trnncata).