Pallid Sturgeon

Scaphirhynchus albus

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Illustration of a pallid sturgeon
Pallid sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus albus
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.
Endangered
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Acipenseridae (sturgeons) in the order Acipenseriformes (sturgeons and paddlefishes)

Description

Pallid sturgeon are similar to shovelnose sturgeon, but with a longer and more pointed snout. The bases of the inner barbels are weakly fringed, and the base of an inner barbel is less than half the width of the base of an outer barbel. The bases of barbels form a crescent. The belly has only scattered embedded plates or is bare. Overall color is grayish white. May exceed 30 inches and 10 pounds. Endangered. If caught, return unharmed to water immediately.

Size

Total length: 30–72 inches; weight: up to 100 pounds.

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Pallid sturgeon illustration
Pallid Sturgeon
Pallid sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus albus

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Image of a pallid sturgeon
Pallid Sturgeon

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A photograph of a researcher, standing in a boat, holding a 3-foot sturgeon
Holding Pallid Sturgeon
Resource Science Assistant Thomas Huffmon holds a pallid sturgeon caught by a research crew on the Missouri River.

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A close-up photo showing the snout and mouth of a pallid sturgeon.
Pallid_Sturgeon_Profile
Pallid sturgeon have cartilage rather than bone for support and a tubular mouth.

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A close-up photo of a pallid sturgeon on a measuring board.
Measuring Pallid Sturgeon
Resource Science Assistant Thomas Huffmon measures a pallid sturgeon.

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sturgeon
Sturgeon
From top down, Endangered Lake Sturgeon, Endangered Pallid Sturgeon, Shovelnose Sturgeon
Habitat and conservation

Pallid sturgeon are bottom dwellers in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in Missouri. Found in areas of strong current that have firm sand substrates in the main river channels, such as along sand bars and behind wing dikes with deeply scoured trenches. Compared to the shovelnose sturgeon, the pallid sturgeon is restricted to areas of strong current.

Foods

Small fishes and immature aquatic insects that are sucked from the bottom sediments.

image of Pallid Sturgeon distirbution map
Distribution in Missouri

Rarely found but widely distributed. Confined principally to the Missouri and lower Mississippi rivers.

Status

This species has been listed as Endangered by both the state of Missouri and the U.S. government. Thus it is not a game species and if caught must be released unharmed. Restoration efforts include captive breeding and restocking of juveniles. Other efforts include habitat preservation: not altering channel island tips; avoiding channel alterations that limit or eliminate shallow, sloping bank habitat; and prohibiting new dams and impoundments, which further reduce habitat. Additionally, stream work should be avoided that disturbs the substrate in areas where juvenile or larval fish are found, from April through mid-June.

Life cycle

Known to live at least 40 years. Males mature at around 7 years of age, while females may not spawn until 15–20 years old. Once a commercially fished species, overharvest, dam construction, and habitat loss have reduced their numbers to dangerously low levels. Another threat to their survival is hybridization with the more common shovelnose sturgeon.

Human connections

Human-caused changes in our big rivers have brought the pallid sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon in more direct contact than they were historically, and the two species now compete directly and also breed and hybridize with each other. Hybridization could result in genetic swamping and eventually threaten the survival of the much less numerous pallid sturgeon species.

Ecosystem connections

The pallid sturgeon is beautifully adapted for its big-river environment. Its streamlined shape enables it to withstand and navigate the strongest river currents; like a catfish, it relies more on scent than on sight to sense its environment. The whitish color is a response to the murky, turbid, low-light conditions, similar to the unpigmented condition of cave fish.