Get Email Updates

The Sturgeon Family

The sturgeon family is the most primitive of all bony fishes, dating back to the Cretaceous period more than 120 million years ago. It is believed that the ancestors of sturgeon lived with the dinosaurs. This makes the sturgeon that you see today almost like living fossils!

There are species of sturgeon worldwide but they are found only in the northern hemisphere. Two species can be found on the East Coast of the United States in coastal waters, estuaries and rivers. The two species on the East Coast are the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) and the smaller shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum).

Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons are anadromous fishes, which means that they spend part of their life cycle in salt water and part in freshwater. They spend most of their time in coastal ocean waters, but migrate and travel through estuaries to rivers and freshwater for spawning. They are slow growing and late maturing fish. Shortnose sturgeon have been known to reach lengths of up to five feet long and weigh up to 50 pounds. Atlantic sturgeon have been recorded to reach lengths of 14 feet long, weighing almost 800 pounds! The oldest Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons that were recorded were estimated to be around 60 years old. Sturgeon are late maturing, some not reaching adulthood until they are 20 years old.

Sturgeon have five rows of bony scutes along the length of their body. Scutes are a modified ganoid scale. Ganoid scales are diamond shaped and found on primitive bony fishes like sturgeon. They can help serve as protection for the fish like armor, and also make sturgeon distinct from other fish.

Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons are benthic or bottom feeders which means that they feed and forage on creatures on the bottom of the rivers, estuaries and coastal waters. They feed primarily on polychaetes (worms), mollusks, crustaceans, and insect larvae. Their mouths are located on the underside of their body making them ideal benthic feeders. Between the mouth and tip of their snout, sturgeon have four barbels. These barbels are sensors which they use to locate food.

Sturgeon mouths are protrusible which means that it can be thrust out toward food on the ocean floor. They suck up food off the floor like a vacuum, and after swallowing it whole, they spit out any pebbles, sand and gravel that were also vacuumed up. Sturgeon do not have teeth! When they swallow their food whole, it goes into their muscular stomach which is strong enough to crush and break up food for digestion.