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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Burbot - Lota lota
Other Names:  Ling

Potential Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status


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State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
The burbot is currently ranked an S4 in Montana and is considered a potential species of concern. While this species is apparently secure, it may be quite rare in parts of its range, and/or suspected to be declining.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Burbot (Lota lota) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 04/08/2010
    View State Conservation Rank Criteria
    Population Size

    ScoreF - 10,000-100,000 individuals

    CommentProbably 10,000 to 100,000 reproductive adults statewide based on known numbers in Clark Canyon Reservoir, Missouri River Reservoirs, Newlon Creek and Smith River Reservoir, and Kootenai River.

    Range Extent

    ScoreF - 20,000-200,000 km squared (about 8,000-80,000 square miles)

    Comment75,616 square kilometers based on Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Area of Occupancy

    ScoreF - 500-2,000 km squared (about 125,000-500,000 acres)

    Comment605 square kilometers based on Heritage Range Maps and occupancy of 1% of landscape by streams and occupancy of 80% of stream reaches and/or tributaries.

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreF - Increase (increase of >25%)

    CommentLong term trend has been for an increase in numbers of fish and area of occupancy as a result of dams that have created cold water habitats that were not present prior to European arrival. These changes to habitat have likely resulted in an increase of g

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation

    CommentThe only population in the state that has solid evidence for declines is the Kootenai River population below Libby dam. However, there is anecdotal information of recent declines below Fort Peck Reservoir due to intensive ice fishing and there is concern amongst some biologists about the Clark Canyon Reservoir population and the Missouri and Yellowstone populations in general. Evidence indicates that other populations and the overall statewide population numbers have remained stable within +/-10% over the last 10 years or 3 generations.


    ScoreF - Widespread, low-severity threat. Threat is of low severity but affects (or would affect) most or a significant portion of the population or area.

    CommentClimate change, drought, agricultural dewatering, and high winter flows below Libby dam on the Kootenai River all represent threats to the species in Montana.

    SeverityLow - Low but nontrivial reduction of species population or reversible degradation or reduction of habitat in area affected, with recovery expected in 10-50 years.

    CommentSpecies is capable of recovering quickly if suitable habitat is available (within 10-50 years). Prevention of agricultural dewatering is probably the best opportunity for management action that will improve and protect Burbot habitat. Dams may mitigate

    ScopeModerate - 20-60% of total population or area affected

    Comment20-60% of the population in Montana is likely to be impacted by reduced water flows and increased water temperatures that will make it difficult for them to persist in these areas within the next 15 years.

    ImmediacyLow - Threat is likely to be operational within 5-20 years.

    CommentSpecies managed recent drought years reasonably well.

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreB/C -

    CommentSpecies has relatively high fecundity with up to 3.5 million eggs laid per large adult female, age to sexual maturity is 3-5 years, and animals can live to 30+ years.

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreB - Narrow. Specialist. Specific habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors (see above) are used or required by the Element, but these key requirements are common and within the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentSpecies is dependent on cold water habitats throughout its range (10-12 degrees C preferred and avoid temperatures above 13 degrees C), but cold water habitats are still reasonably widespread in Montana.

    Raw Conservation Status Score

    Score 3.5 + 0.0 (population size) + 0.0 (area of occupancy) + 0.0 (short-term trend) + 0.0 (threats) = 3.5

General Description
The burbot is easily recognized by its single chin barbel. It is native to most of Canada and the northern United States and is found in all three major river drainages in Montana. Burbot, also known as ling, are usually found in larger streams and cold, deep lakes and reservoirs. They are peculiar in that they spawn during winter, under the ice. They are also largely nocturnal and have an enthusiastic following among fishermen. Burbot are voracious predators and opportunistic feeders. Like other codfish, burbot have livers which contain oils high in vitamins A and D. Despite their unconventional appearance, fishermen rate burbot tops for table fare.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The skin of the burbot appears smooth, but tiny embedded scales are present.

Species Range
Montana Range


Western Hemisphere Range


Range Comments
Burbot have circumpolar distribution above 40°N. Populations are continuous from the British Isles across Europe and Asia to the Bering Strait. In North America, burbot range from the Seward Peninsula in Alaska to New Brunswick along the Atlantic coast. Burbot are most common in streams and lakes of North America and Europe. They are fairly common in Lake Erie, but are also found in the other Great Lakes.

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 2296

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Burbot may move upstream to spawn in rivers where deep pools behind dams or diversions attract spawning groups.

Burbot habitat includes large rivers and cold, deep lakes and reservoirs. They spawn in shallow water, usually in rocky areas.

Food Habits
The young feed on various aquatic invertebrates. Adults are very piscivorous.

The lower Yellowstone River is a rearing area for young burbot.

Reproductive Characteristics
The species spawn from January to February in large groups. Eggs are cast over the bottom and hatch April through May. Incubation is for 30 days at 43 degrees F. Burbot are sexually mature in 3 years.

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Citation for data on this website:
Burbot — Lota lota.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from