In the lake sturgeon, the snout is rounded, and a small special is present above and behind each eye. The barbels are smooth, not fringed. The caudal peduncle is not completely covered with dermal plates. The lower lip has two lobes. The back may be light tan to moderate brown, grading to cream color on the venter. Fins are similarly colored. See Rafinesque (1817a) for original description.
The major populations of lake sturgeon are widespread in northern latitudes of the United States and Canada. In Alabama, its collection at only four locations—two in the Tennessee River, two in the Coosa River—coupled with the lack of recent collections indicates that the fish was extirpated from state waters. Even so, the species is not in immediate jeopardy, because adults have been artificially spawned and reintroduced into the species’ current range in Georgia. Some of these fish have now been caught in Alabama.
Lake sturgeon have recently been stocked into the upper Coosa River basin by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Lake sturgeon have been captured in Lake Weiss and the upper Coosa River of Alabama. Lake sturgeon cannot be kept in either Alabama or Georgia, but the Georgia DNR would appreciate hearing about captures or sightings. Note the date and location of your sighting, photograph the fish if possible, and give your name and telephone number to Wildlife Resources Division, Fisheries Management Section, P. O. Box 519 Calhoun, GA 30703 or call (706) 624-1161 and leave your name and telephone number
HABITAT AND BIOLOGY:
Little is known about this species’ life history in Alabama. According to studies of northern populations by Scott and Crossman (1973) and Becker (1983), lake sturgeon live on the bottoms of rivers and large streams that have gravel and sand substrates and moderate or swift currents. They feed on benthic (bottom-living) invertebrates, including crayfish, aquatic insect larvae, and mollusks. Only a portion of the adult population migrates upstream into larger streams and spawns in any one year; the time between spawns ranges from four to nine years. Spawning occurs from April into June and lasts for one or two days. Adults congregate in shallow water over gravel in moderate or strong currents, where two males generally spawn with a single female. Some 50,000 to 700,000 eggs are deposited per spawn; larger females may deposit as many as one to three million eggs. Adults leave the spawning site soon afterward to avoid being trapped by summer’s lower water levels.
Family Acipenseridae Sturgeon Family
Sturgeons have a skeleton made of cartilage, even though they are considered bony fishes. The mouth is located on the bottom side of the shovel-shaped head. The tail fin is deeply forked. Four large barbels are located on the bottom of the snout.
lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) [state endangered]
This bottom-feeder of lakes and large rivers uses its protrusible mouth to suck up materials such as snails, clams, insect larvae, and crayfish. Spawning occurs in late spring. Females do not spawn every year and do not reproduce at all until they are 20 years old. The growth of individuals is very slow, but a length of nine feet may be attained.
shovelnose sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platonic) © Garold Sneegas/Engbretson Underwater Photography
A shovelnose sturgeon’s average weight is one and one-half to two pounds. The maximum length is about 30 inches, and the maximum weight is about five pounds. Four fringed barbels (whisker-like projections) are present on the chin near the sucking-type mouth. Bony plates along the back, a forked tail, and a flat head in the shape of a shovel are all characteristic traits. The body is brown on the back and sides with a white belly. The skeleton is mainly cartilage.
The shovelnose sturgeon lives on a gravel or sand bottom in the open channels of large rivers. This fish is capable of reproducing when it reaches a length of 20 to 25 inches (age five to seven years). The female deposits about 200,000 eggs over a gravel or rock bottom in the open channel of a large river. Spawning occurs April through June. The shovelnose sturgeon eats insect larvae (particularly flies and caddisflies), using its flexible sucking mouth to pull them in.