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Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens, Ojibwa: Name)

Long live the king! Lake sturgeon are the largest Lake Superior fish and maybe the most handsome with those winsome whiskers (barbels). These bottom-feeding beauts love clean, large rivers and lakes almost as much as they do snails, leeches, and insect larvae. Nearly chased out of the region as a result of overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and more, this primitive but sublime creature of legend and lore is a species of special concern in Minnesota. Its survivor's heart is armored with five rows of bony plates, or scutes. Some live for more than a century. After death, the sturgeon reveals that it's not just a bag of bones ... there's a cartilaginous skeleton underneath all that armor.

Few species that lived over 150 million years ago still live today, but the lake sturgeon is among them. Not only have lake sturgeon survived as a species, but also some individuals live beyond 100 years. This makes sturgeon among the longest living fish.

About Lake Sturgeon:

  • They operate within a tough skin; no typical fish scales for them!
  • 5 rows of hard plates, called scutes, run along their body on each side.
  • Their skeleton is primarily cartilaginous (most fish have skeletons made of bone).
  • They have a torpedo-shaped body with a shovel-like snout.
  • They use dangling, whisker-like barbels on the underside of their snout to search for food.
  • They have a toothless mouth used to suck food off the bottom of lakes and rivers.

Lake sturgeon can grow to 8 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds. Despite their size, their diet consists of small organisms, such as clams, crayfish, leeches, small fish, and aquatic insects.

Lake sturgeon were wiped out of the St. Louis River, a major Lake Superior tributary, due to overharvesting, pollution, and dam construction. Restocking efforts that began in the mid-1980s are leading to natural reproduction in spawning areas along the river today.

Fun Fact:

Because of their large size, lake sturgeon have been mistaken for sharks in Lake Superior; sharks DO NOT live in Lake Superior.

Another Fun Fact: Nearly every summer day you can see lake sturgeon jumping in the St. Louis River. Although exactly "why" remains mysterious, they seem to "porpoise" like this as a pre-spawning behavior (ref: Bruch, R. M. and F. P. Binkowski2. 2002. Spawning behavior of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). J. Appl. Ichthyol. 18 : 570-579.

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This page last modified on May 04, 2016     © 1996 – 2017 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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