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Shovelnose Sturgeon


SCIENTIFIC NAME: Scaphirhynchus platorynchus

CHARACTERISTICS: As its common name indicates, this species has a shovel-shaped snout. Both the shovelnose and the Alabama sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus suttkusi, are distinguished from members of the genus Acipenser by four lobes on the lower lip and fringed barbels in front of the mouth. The shovelnose sturgeon’s eye is somewhat smaller than the Alabama sturgeon’s; its eye length goes 7.7 to 14.4 (usually 9.0 to 11.0) times into head width. Lateral plates anterior to the origin of the dorsal fin number 23 to 31, dorsal plates 13 to 19, and plates between the caudal fin base and the caudal peduncle seven to 10 (usually nine). The top on this fish is light to medium gray or brown, grading to cream or white on the venter.

ADULT SIZE: 2 to 3 ft (0.6 to 0.9 m)

DISTRIBUTION: In Alabama, shovelnose sturgeon were first collected in the Tennessee River near Wilson Dam in 1937 and near Decatur in 1940 (Bailey and Cross, 1954). These specimens were later deposited in the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and the Smithsonian Institution. Although this species seems to have been extirpated in Alabama, recent collections were reported in Kentucky by Warren et al. (1986) and in Arkansas by Robinson and Buchanan (1988). Etnier and Starnes (1993) report that shovelnose sturgeon are often taken by commercial fishermen in western Tennessee.

HABITATA AND BIOLOGY: Little is known about the habitat of this species in Alabama. Hurley et al. (1987) record collecting upper Mississippi basin specimens, at depths of 14 to 40 feet in large rivers with swift currents and sand gravel substrates. Individuals usually seek cover behind wing dams and other structures during high water and remain in deeper channels during the summer. In Arkansas, Robison and Buchanan (1988) report that adults spawn over rocky substrates when water temperatures reach 68º to 71ºF (19.5º to 21.1ºC). Individuals are fairly active during the spring, probably because they are searching for spawning partners. Rafinesque (1820) reports that Alabama shad, paddlefish, and shovelnose sturgeon were all collected below the falls of the Ohio River, an indication that the three species may use the same area for spawning.

REMARKS: Shovelnose sturgeon have been spawned in captivity and the offspring released onto the upper Mississippi River basin. Hopes are that one day this can be done to restock Alabama waters as well.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: Rafinesque described the shovelnose sturgeon in 1820.

Scaphirhynchus means spade-shaped snout.
Platorynchus means broad snout.

The copyrighted information above is from Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.

Note: In Alabama, it is illegal to stock or move any fish, mussel, snail or crayfish to any public water without a permit.

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