Photograph courtesy Zeb Hogan
- Average life span in the wild:
- Males, 55 years; females, 150 years
- 6.5 ft (2 m)
- Up to 200 lbs (90 kg)
- Did you know?
- The lake sturgeon is often called a "living fossil," part of a family of fish that has existed for more than 135 million years.
- Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man
Please add a "relative" entry to your dictionary.
The lake sturgeon, with its sleek shape and rows of bony plates on its sides, looks a bit like an armored torpedo. These freshwater giants have greenish-grey coloring and a pointed snout with two pairs of whiskerlike tactile organs that dangle near its mouth. These organs, called barbels, help it to locate bottom-dwelling prey, such as snails, clams, insect larvae, and fish eggs.
Lake sturgeons can be huge, topping six feet (two meters) long and weighing nearly 200 pounds (90 kilograms). They are also extremely long-lived. Males may live some 55 years, and females can reach 150.
Despite their name, lake sturgeons are also found in rivers, but they avoid salt water. These fish were once a major part of North America's Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and Mississippi River ecosystems and occurred from Canada to Alabama. But intense fishing has exacted a heavy toll on their populations.
These fish were once killed as a nuisance bycatch because they damaged fishing gear. When their meat and eggs became prized, commercial fishermen targeted them. Between 1879 and 1900, the Great Lakes commercial sturgeon fishery brought in an average of 4 million pounds (1.8 metric tons) per year.
Such unsustainable catch rates were coupled with environmental challenges such as pollution and the construction of dams and other flood control measures. Sturgeons, which return each spring to spawn in the streams and rivers in which they were born, found tributaries blocked and spawning shoals destroyed by silt from agriculture and lumbering.
The 20th century saw drastic drops in sturgeon catches, increased regulations, and the closure of viable fisheries. Currently 19 of the 20 states within the fish's original U.S. range list it as either threatened or endangered.
In recent years, however, the great fish has made something of a comeback. Strong efforts at righting environmental wrongs in the Great Lakes have improved conditions, and concentrated efforts to protect the fish have turned sturgeon into a spotlight species.
Help Save the Colorado River
You can help restore freshwater ecosystems by pledging to cut your water footprint. For every pledge, Change the Course will restore 1,000 gallons back to the Colorado River.
Pete is a photographer and visual storyteller with an emphasis on freshwater conservation.
Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts.
For more than 15 years, Osvel Hinojosa Huerta has been resurrecting Mexico's Colorado River Delta wetlands.
Change the Course Infographic
Check out this infographic and learn how you can conserve water and save the Colorado River, as well as other freshwater ecosystems.
Find out with our footprint calculator, then pledge to cut it!
Find out how much water it really takes to support your lifestyle.
Help lower your global water footprint and conserve water. Learn what you can do to help.