Shovelnose Sturgeon

Scaphirhynchus platorynchus


Shovelnose sturgeon illustration
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.

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


Upper tail fin lobe has a long, slender filament, which may break off in adults. Fringed barbels are present, and the lip has 4 lobes. Bases of barbels form a straight line. No spiracle, the small round hole found above the eye in lake sturgeon. Similar to pallid sturgeon with following exceptions: shorter and less pointed snout, bases of inner barbels are about equal distant between the mouth and snout tip, inner barbels are more fringed and thicker, width of barbel bases are more than half the width of the outer barbel bases and the fish’s belly is covered with plates.  Thin scale-like plates on belly. Long, slender filament on tail (if not broken off). Reddish-brown or buff color. Cartilaginous, boneless skeleton like other sturgeon species.


Total length: up to 30 inches; weight: rarely exceeds 5 pounds.

Habitat and conservation

Usually found in open, flowing channels of larger rivers with sandy or gravel bottoms. This species migrates extensively and individuals have been documented to travel as far as 560 miles.


These bottom-feeding fish consume large numbers of aquatic invertebrates such as midge, caddisfly, mayfly and stonefly larvae.

image of Shovelnose Sturgeon distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

The most abundant sturgeon in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Also occasionally caught in the Current River near Doniphan, Missouri.


Permitted sport fish. Because it so closely resembles the pallid sturgeon (which is in danger of becoming extinct), the shovelnose sturgeon is illegal to harvest for commercial purposes in Missouri.

Life cycle

Individuals can live at least 14 years and likely longer; they are sexually mature at five to seven years of age. Most abundant sturgeon in Mississippi and Missouri River systems, but numbers are declining likely due to overharvest, dam construction and habitat alteration.

Human connections

As many as 150,000 pounds of shovelnose sturgeon were commercially harvested annually in the early 1900s.