Do they have any other names?
The shovelnose sturgeon is also called hackleback, switchtail, and sand sturgeon.
Why are they called shovelnose sturgeon?
They are called shovelnose for their flattened, shovel-shaped snouts. Scaphirhynchus is
Greek for “spade snout” and platorynchus is Greek for “broad snout.”
What do they look like?
Shovelnose sturgeon are light brown or buff on the back and sides and white on the
belly. They have a flattened, shovel-shaped snout and are covered in rows of bony
plates instead of scales. The upper lobe of the tail fin is longer than the bottom and
has a long, slender filament that sometimes breaks off in adulthood. The mouth is far
back on the underside of the snout and there are four large barbels that dangle from
the snout in front of the mouth.
Where do they live in Indiana?
Shovelnose sturgeon are common in the rivers of Indiana.
What kind of habitat do they need?
Shovelnose sturgeon live in the open channels of large rivers. They stay on the 2012-MLC Page 2
bottom, often in areas with a swift current and sandy or gravelly bottom, and are
tolerant of high turbidity.
How do they reproduce?
Spawning occurs in the open channels of large rivers in a strong current over gravel
bottoms between April and July. The peak of spawning is around May 10 and the
sturgeon migrate from the feeding grounds to the breeding grounds. During spawning
the sturgeon leave the bottom of the river and swim at the surface. The eggs are
released into the current and hatch after 3 to 5 days.
How old are they when they reproduce?
Shovelnose sturgeon do not spawn until they are 5 to 7 years old. Females do not
spawn every year. This late maturity makes the sturgeon vulnerable to overharvest.
How long do they live?
Shovelnose sturgeon can live up to 30 years.
How fast do they grow in Indiana?
Shovelnose sturgeon are slow growers and reach a length of about 8.3 inches in the
first year. The average length of an adult shovelnose sturgeon is about 21 inches and
the average weight is 1.5 pounds.
What do they eat?
Shovelnose sturgeon feed on the bottom by raking the bottom with their sensitive
barbels. They eat aquatic insect larvae and crustaceans.
What eats them?
Many species eat the eggs and young shovelnose sturgeon but the adults have few
predators. The main predator for an adult sturgeon is humans who take them for their
meat and caviar.
Are they safe to eat?
The flesh of sturgeons has an excellent flavor and is often smoked. The eggs are also
in high demand for caviar.
How do I fish for them?
Shovelnose sturgeon can be caught by trot lines baited with worms or minnows and
set in drop-off areas near the lower ends of sand bars.
How is Indiana managing shovelnose sturgeon?
Shovelnose sturgeon are a native fish to Indiana and are not stocked by the state.
There is a 25 inch minimum length limit however placed on shovelnose sturgeon
harvested by anglers.
Additional facts about shovelnose sturgeon
-Although they are mostly sedentary, they are capable of traveling very long distances
and often cross between states. One particular sturgeon was tagged in the Mississippi
River at the mouth of the Ohio River and was caught seven years later in the Wabash
River near Vincennes, IN.
-Because they are bottom feeders they are an important host for many species of
freshwater mussel larvae. One of these species is the hickory-nut mussel, whose only
known host is the shovelnose sturgeon.