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Commonly Asked Questions

Appears in Georgia Aquarium's:
  • Overhead River Habitat (River Scout)

Range / Habitat

  • Originally occurs in large rivers of the Mississippi River basin from Montana and south to Louisiana; the Mobile Bay drainage in Alabama and Mississippi; the Tennessee River; and the Upper Rio Grande in New Mexico. The fish now is common in the Mississippi Basin, rare in Mobile Bay drainage and extinct in the Rio Grande.
  • Found at the bottom of main channels and bays of large, turbid rivers, where currents are strong enough to keep the gravel substrate clear of silt.
  • Usually found in depths of 6 to 23 feet (2 - 7 m).

Physical Characteristics

  • Has a broad shovel-shaped snout with four fringed barbels in front of its mouth, which is on the underside of its head.
  • Upper and lower lips each have four distinct fleshy lobes.
  • Body tapers abruptly towards the tail. The caudal peduncle is slender and well armored, flat in cross section and covered with bony plates. 
  • Scale-like scutes, or bony external plates, cover the belly except on the smallest young. 
  • Pale to medium gray or brownish dorsally and white below.
  • The maximum length is recorded at 3.3 feet (100 cm) and the maximum published weight is 11 lbs. (4.8 kg).

Diet / Feeding

  • Bulk of the diet of the shovelnose sturgeon consists of aquatic insect larvae, especially burrowing mayflies and caddisfly larvae.
  • Cruises the bottom of the rivers where it detects prey with sensitive barbels and vacuums the food items up through its long tubular mouth.

Reproduction / Growth

  • Spawning is reported to occur from April to June in large rivers in areas with rocky substrates and swift currents.

Conservation Status

  • “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.
  • International trade has been restricted under CITES Appendix II since 1998.
  • Overall, its numbers have decreased sharply since 1900, but it still remains abundant off the main channels of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. 
  • Has not been seen in Alabama during the last half-century and is thought to be extinct there.

Additional Information

  • Slow-growing fish that is long-lived, some attaining 43 years of age or more. 
  • It is the most common mid-American sturgeon.
  • At one time it was considered worthless and regarded as a nuisance by fishermen. However, after about 1900, the shovelnose sturgeon was recognized as being valuable as a smoked fish product and its roe is valued as caviar. 
  • In past years, this sturgeon was exploited as food and byproducts. Today, the industry processes only a small fraction of the historic peak catch numbers.

Peterson Field Guides: Freshwater Fishes. Page, L. and Burr, B., pgs. 27 - 28
Fishes of Alabama. Boschung Jr., H. T. and Mayden, R. L.,  pgs. 107 -108
The Fishes of Tennessee. Etnier, D. A. and Starnes, W. C., pgs 102 -103