The pike is one of the most common species in European freshwater environments
The pike is one of the most common species in European freshwater environments. Their most important living areas are lakes and it is likely that more than 80 % of the lakes around Europe contain pike. The pike is very adaptive, meaning that it lives in small and big lakes. An important aspect is that the lake needs to have a healthy amount of vegetation. If the lake has that, the pike is very flexible in where it can live. Also, canals and river rivers with slow flowing water are a favorite amongst pike.
Even in brackish waters, the pike can thrive, where the salinity is fairly low, 10-12 ‰. They can therefore be found in fjords across Europe. They are most abundant in the northern parts of Europe, where there are a lot of lakes.
The importance of vegetation
Most of the pike’s life is lived near vegetation. When it is small it feeds on small insects that live close to vegetation. Reed beds are not the preferred place to be close to for the pike but lakes with murky waters or where other types of vegetation is sparse, it will use it as a cover.
Vegetation offers a great hiding place for the pike’s ambush attack. They like to stand still for hours and just to wait until an insect or a fish come by. When it does, the pike shoots out from its hiding and a vacuum sucks the prey into its large mouth. The larger pikes will spend most of their time in open water away from the safety of vegetation. Here, the bigger pikes are the top predator and almost no other fish will be preying on big pike. Unless you are in the southern parts of Europe, where catfish are the biggest freshwater fish.
The pike will spawn in the springtime, depending on the temperature. If the temperature is below 6 degrees Celsius, the pike will not be able to spawn successfully. The spawning can even be interrupted if the temperature drops again and the whole process is postponed. It also needs shallow water to be successful. The shallows warm up much quicker than deeper parts. If these 2 conditions are not met, the pike will not be able to spawn.
The first one to feel the tension rising is the male. They will go to the shallow and wait for a female to get attracted. If the male succeeds, it will often stay until the next female will pass by, so he can father more children. During spawning, the male and the female are swimming side by side until they both slow down. When the male brings its genital opening closer to the female’s and twists its tail to make the connection. When they reach each other, they make a fast move forward, where the eggs and the seed are released, and the seed and eggs are mixed. They will repeat this act every 2 minutes until the female has released all her eggs. A spawning can take up to 2 hours to complete. A female pike of around 1 meter can hold as much as 250.000 eggs.
Post spawned pike. The pike are skinny, but very hungry just after the spawning period
The pike fry
The fry will hatch after 5-25 days depending on the temperature. The optimal temperature lies between 8-15 degrees Celsius, but they can survive between 4-23 degrees Celsius. When the pike hatches, the larvae will be around 8-9mm and hardly developed. Its swimming abilities are very poor, and it immediately swims towards a leaf, where it will attach itself between its eyes, head first. Here it will stay for 5-12 days and getting stronger by feeding of its yolk sac.
What does the pike eat?
After gaining strength, it will soon start to feed. In the beginning, the food is restricted to insects, larvae’s and Daphne’s. When it reaches 9cm, it starts to prey on smaller fish and keeps feeding on fish from that point on.
The pike will decide what is the best fish to feed on, depending on how much energy it should use to catch it. It will most often target larger prey, since it can live of it for longer and conserve energy. Research also show that it prefers easy edible fish, such as roaches, since it is easier to swallow compared to perch, since it has spikes.
The menu is quite different in the river, compared to the lake, as described above. A Danish research shows that the pike in rivers are feeding mostly on crayfish in their younger years. When they get past the 40cm mark, they will start feeding on fish more. After this, the pike will feed almost entirely on fish. In the river it feeds on roaches, perch, trout and sticklebacks. It is known that they feed on trout smolt going out of the river during the spring.
How does the pike hunt?
The pike’s most preferred attack method is an ambush attack. By camouflaging itself in the vegetation, it waits until a prey comes by and slowly moves towards the meal. When it is just in front of its mouth, the pike will make an explosive attack, where it can speed up to 20 km/h. It does this by making a sudden s-move and it shoots out. When it opens its mouth, a vacuum is formed, and the fish will disappear in its mouth. Most often, the pike will strike its prey in the middle of its body. It will try to swallow its prey, head first.
The pike also patrol their territory in search of food. Especially when it gets bigger, it will move towards deeper water and only search for the biggest prey it can swallow.
Can the pike hunt in unclear water?
Its primarily sense to hunt with, is its sight. Therefore, scientists tried to prove this theory, but it turns out that the pike have no problems finding food in dark or unclear water. They think that the pike is using its sideline to detect movements and vibrations to locate its prey. They also use the unclear water as disguise to sneak closer to its prey. Normally, there will be more fish in lakes or rivers with murky water, which also improves the changes of the pike being successful.
When is it most active
Research have shown that the pike is most active when temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius, but they are several factors playing into this. In the summer, when water temperatures rise, the pike is 100% most active by sunrise, when the water temperature is at its lowest. This is where it is moving around the most, in search of food. But, even at very low temperatures, such as 0-2 degrees Celsius, the pike is still active searching for food.
During the winter they will go to the deeper parts of the lake, where the water is a bit warmer and stay there until spring time, when the spawning starts. They will most often stay in the shallow areas until the water temperature drops again.
Enemies of the pike
The pike does not have many enemies, being the top predator of the lake, but they are still vulnerable. Their biggest threat is themselves, when talking about cannibalism. A research, made by The Danish Technological Institute, showed that a female pike of 102cm ate 4 of its brothers and sisters in sizes 42, 55, 62 and 74cm. So going big with lures is no problem!
Cormorant and heron is also an enemy until the pike reaches a certain size. Cormorant has no problem swallowing pike until they reach 40cm.
The winter coat. The late winter fish can be fat, but still very actively feeding