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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.

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