Bowfin are the lone survivors of an earlier primitive family of fish known mostly through fossils. In addition to gills, these fish have a modified air bladder, like the gar, that enables them to use surface air that it gulps in and to live in polluted or stagnant water unsuitable for most fish. The swim bladder is lined with blood vessels and can serve as a lung.
The bowfin is commonly used as laboratory test animal because of its status as a "living fossil." It is easy to maintain and has interesting behavioral and physiological temperaments.
They are fighters when caught on sporting tackle, but they are generally considered poor eating. Their eggs however are said to be good tasting. Food critics have given "Cajun caviar," a delicacy made from the eggs of bowfin, rave reviews.
The list of alternative names is lengthy, but the most common are "mudfish", "dogfish, " "grinnel", "grindel", "cotton fish", "swamp muskie," "lawyer," and "tchoupique".