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Arctic Grayling Notecard



Arctic Grayling (Thymallus acrticus)

Although they are related to trout and salmon, it would be difficult to mistake an Arctic Grayling for any other species of fish. About 12-15 inches in length, the grayling has a spectacular dorsal fin marked with large, iridescent pink spots, and a purple-black body accented by brown spots and a pink shimmer.

Living primarily in Alaska and northwestern Canada, grayling have evolved to survive in habitats too cold for many other species of salmon. In summer they feed on whatever food they can find – insects, fish eggs, small fish, and even the occasional small mammal – fattening up in preparation to spend months under the ice of frozen lakes. As the days cool, the grayling must find lakes deep enough to remain unfrozen during the long winter months. Grayling are able to survive in water containing low levels of oxygen better than other salmon species. Due to the cold, grayling development is often delayed, with maturity being reached at age six or seven.

Anglers love to fish for grayling. Summer feeding creates fish willing to bite at almost any lure. Few people choose to eat grayling, however, due to the strange scent of its flesh-some people say that it smells like the herb thyme, thus giving the grayling its genus name “Thymallus”. Native peoples, however, sometimes catch the fish to feed to their dogs.

The grayling’s distribution reflects the changes that Earth’s climate has undergone. Grayling prefer the cold, clear water of the far North. In a few lakes in Montana and Utah, however, there are remnant populations of grayling, indicating that the climate in these places used to be cooler than it is now. There was a population of the fish in Michigan, as well, but this group was driven to extinction in the early 1900’s.

artwork and text by

Emma Skurnik © 2004