Long fish, long history

Sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America, and they can live for over 60 years. They live in lakes, rivers and the ocean. Fossil records for sturgeon date back 175 million years, and modern sturgeon still bear a distinct resemblance to their prehistoric predecessors. Like sharks, modern sturgeon have skeletons made mostly of cartilage.

Scutes, not scales
Rather than scales, sturgeon have five rows of bony plates along the length of their bodies, known as scutes. These scutes serve as armor, keeping sturgeon well protected against predators.
Scoping the seafloor
Sturgeon search along the seafloor, riverbed or lakebed for food by using four feelers, called barbels, under their snout. The barbels help them locate prey, even in murky water. Unlike most fish, sturgeon taste buds are located on the outside of their mouths, making it easier for them to find food.
Bottom-feeder buffet
Sturgeon don’t have teeth. To eat, they extend their mouths, suck up their prey and swallow it. Sturgeon consume a wide array of prey, including worms, shrimp, clams, crabs, mussels and snails. Larger sturgeon also eat bony fish, such as salmon or sculpins.
Slow to grow
Like salmon, sturgeon living in salt water are anadromous, meaning they migrate into freshwater to spawn. Sturgeon only spawn once every two to eight years, and lay 100,000 to 4,000,000 eggs. Young sturgeon usually don’t venture into salt water until a few years after hatching. They grow slowly, reaching full maturity after 10 to 20 years.
A threatened fish
Many sturgeon species are endangered. While sturgeon don't have many natural predators, their populations can be impacted by human causes such as pollution, overfishing, boat traffic and dammed rivers. Overfishing has been especially problematic for sturgeon, particularly because of commercial demand for their eggs. Efforts have been made to fish sturgeon more sustainably, which has benefited some sturgeon species.


Sturgeon range

Quick Facts

Diet: Carnivore
Size: Up to 15 feet