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A Dinosaur in the Mississippi River

Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) Photo credit: Kayla Kimmel, USFWS

Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi)
Photo credit: Kayla Kimmel, USFWS Creative Commons license

With an elongated flat snout and a row of bony plates running down its back and sides, the Gulf sturgeon is an unusual looking fish. It can grow to a length of 10 to 12 feet and weigh several hundreds of pounds! The average length of a Gulf sturgeon is 5 to 6 feet.

Sturgeons have earned the nickname of “living dinosaur” as the fossil records show that they evolved over 200 million years ago. Throughout this time, they have largely remained the same.

The number of Gulf sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) has declined over the last few decades, leading it to become listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1991.

Where do Gulf sturgeon live?

In Mississippi, Gulf sturgeon can be found in the Mississippi River, the Pascagoula River, and the Pearl River drainages and along the Gulf Coast. A study published in 2011 found a spawning area used by Gulf sturgeon in the Bouie River, which is just north of Hattiesburg.

These fish spend the fall and winter in the Gulf Coast, moving into rivers inland to spawn. After they have spawned, they will remain in the middle or lower parts of the rivers for the summer, returning to the Gulf Coast in the fall.

After the young Gulf sturgeon hatch, they will remain in the river where they were born until they get to be 2 years in age.

What do Gulf sturgeon eat?

Gulf sturgeon have no teeth, so they must eat food that can be swallowed whole, sucking them up into their tube-like mouth. They utilize the barbels that extend from the mouths to detect their prey. They are bottom feeders and will skim the muddy bottom to feed on mollusks, insect larvae, shrimp, amphipods, isopods, and marine worms.

Adult Gulf sturgeon feed mainly in the waters of the Gulf Coast during the fall and winter. They will feed regularly while in the coastal waters so that they can gain as much weight as possible before entering the rivers for the spring and summer. They don’t feed much when in the river systems where they spawn.

Video of USFWS employees tagging Gulf Sturgeon for a study

Fun facts about Gulf sturgeon

  • Gulf sturgeon will jump several feet out of the water. You can see them jumping in July and August in the rivers where they spawn.
  • The average life span of this fish is 20 to 25 years, though some have lived to be over 40 years old.
  • A Gulf sturgeon reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 8 and 17 years for females and between 7 and 12 years for males.

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