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Discover Nature: Paddlefish

A paddlefish, also known as spoonbill, swims through blue-green water
Paddlefish, also known as spoonbill, have long, paddle-shaped rostrums that are about one-third the length of their bodies.

This week on discover nature one of the oldest fish species alive today, and Missouri’s official state aquatic animal, is on the move.



Paddlefish are related to sturgeon and sharks and are historically found in the big rivers of our state. 


This large bluish-gray fish with an elongated paddlelike snout, or rostrum, has no bones in its body, and adults have no teeth. Paddlefish swim slowly through water with their mouths wide open, collecting tiny crustaceans and insects in their elaborate gill-rakers. 


As waters rise in spring, paddlefish move upstream to spawn. Females deposit eggs on silt-free, seasonally-submerged gravel bars. 


When eggs hatch, the larval fish are swept downstream to deeper pools where they grow to adulthood. 


They need free-flowing rivers, oxbows, and backwaters for feeding, and gravel bars for spawning.  Thus, channelization, damming, impoundments, and other river modifications have greatly diminished paddlefish populations. 


Still conservation efforts maintain a viable fishery in Missouri, and paddlefish are highly sought after for their flesh, as well as their caviar. 


Learn more about paddlefish in Missouri with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide, and review paddlefish snagging season dates and regulations before heading out to harvest them.  


Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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