Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorinchus)

Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorinchus)

A member of the Acipenseridae family of sturgeon, the shovelnose is a small species and the most abundant sturgeon in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and tributaries. The shovelnose is rarely encountered by anglers but has historically had commercial value. Because shovelnose sturgeon are nearly identical to pallid sturgeon (S. albus), a federally endangered species, some localities do not allow commercial or recreational fishing for shovelnose.


The shovelnose sturgeon has a broad, flat head with an extended spadelike snout. There are four barbels under the snout, the two middle ones being almost as long as the outside barbels. All four are located in a straight line in front of the mouth.

The body is brown to gray in color, with five rows of scutes (bony scalelike plates). The upper lobe of the caudal fin is longer than the lower lobe and has a threadlike extension, which may be worn off in older individuals. There are scales under the body and also on the caudal peduncle.


The average size of adult shovelnose sturgeon is about 20 inches and 11⁄2 pounds. A large specimen is about 5 pounds; they rarely exceed 3 feet or 6 pounds in weight but reportedly may grow to 10 pounds. The shovelnose is smaller than the pallid sturgeon, which is also found in the Mississippi River system.

Spawning behavior

Spawning begins at 5 to 7 years of age and occurs over sand and gravel in large channels with fast currents.


The shovelnose feeds entirely on the bottom on the larvae of aquatic insects, which constitute the bulk of its diet. It may occasionally eat small fish.

Other Names

sturgeon, hackleback sturgeon.


The shovelnose occurs in much the same range as the lake sturgeon, although not in the Great Lakes. Its range is the Mississippi River basin from western Pennsylvania to Montana and south to Louisiana; the Mobile Bay drainage in Alabama and Mississippi; and the upper Rio Grande in New Mexico.


This species prefers the fast currents of large rivers with sand or gravel bottoms but can live in muddy waters.