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Buff or olive-drab above and light beneath. The entire body is armored with heavy plates. The snout is markedly flattened or shovel-shaped. There are no spiracles. There is a very long, thread-like filament attached to the top lobe of the tail fin, from whence the fish gets one of its common names, "switchtail." This filament is very fragile and is often missing, especially in older fish. This species commonly reaches a weight of 6 to 8 pounds, although 4 or 5 pound fish are more common.
Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, occasionally in larger tributaries.
Insect larvea, small mollusks and other bottom-dwelling organisms
12 pounds - Des Moines River, Van Buren County, April 1974 - Randy Hemm, Douds, Iowa
Most shovelnose sturgeon are caught accidentally by anglers fishing for catfish on the bottom.
The shovelnose is mostly a river fish, very seldom being found in the absence of a current. In the Mississippi River it frequents the tailwaters below wing dams and other structures which accelerate current flow.
Spawning occurs in May and June, with the spawning run being greatest during years of low flow. Little is known about the spawning activity of this species. Fish mature at 5 to 7 years of age when around 20- to 24-inches long. Females do not spawn every year, and the larger fsih produce about 50,000 eggs. Growth in the Mississippi River is 8.4-inches at age 1, 12.5 at age 2, 16.1 at age 3, 18.8 at age 4, 20.7 at age 5, 22.5 at age 6, 23.8 at age 7, 25 at age 8, 25.9 at age 9, 26.7 at age 10, 27.1 at age 11, and 27.4 at age 12. Fish over 12 years of age are very rare.
Shovelnose are the only sturgeon which can be legally taken in Iowa, and they are actively sought by commercial and sport fishermen. About 50,000 pounds are harvested each year by commercial fishermen from the Mississippi River.