The 5 Weirdest Fish in the Mississippi River

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: April 24, 2022
Image Credit Chase D'animulls/Shutterstock.com
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The Mississippi River, which starts in Minnesota’s Lake Itasca and ends in the Gulf of Mexico, is home to 119 species of fish. No other lake in Minnesota can claim such figure. Some of the river’s more commonly-found species are basses, catfish, crappies, and bluegills.

The Mississippi is also home to some rarer and weirder species of fish. Some of these fishes look unreal and others are so rare that myths are based on them! This article takes a look at the 5 weirdest fish in the Mississippi River.

5 Weirdest Fish in the Mississippi River

Paddlefish

Types of rare fish - American Paddlefish
Paddlefish are often referred to as primitive fish because of how little they’ve evolved.

Saran Jantraurai/Shutterstock.com

The paddlefish’s look stands out before anything else. Their paddle-like snouts are called rostrums and help them to detect prey even more than their eyes. This is because of the electroreceptors in their rostrums.

They are often referred to as primitive fish because they have only evolved slightly from the earliest fossil records when compared to other fish species. Paddlefish are also known as American paddlefish. This is because the Chinese paddlefish went extinct in 2020, making the American paddlefish the only surviving paddlefish species.

The paddlefish’s eggs are used to make caviar, making humans the species’ greatest predator. Paddlefish are usually gray or green and have smooth skins. On average, paddlefish grow as long as 5 feet and weigh more than 60 pounds. However, the largest paddlefish on record, according to Newsweek, was caught in Keystone Lake, and weighed 64 pounds!

One would expect that paddlefish prey on large fishes considering their size- but this is not true. Paddlefish mainly feed on plankton by straining their food from the water with their large mouths. This is called filter-feeding.

Bull shark

Bull shark facts - a bull shark underwater
Bull sharks, which are extremely rare to spot, can be found in the Mississippi river.

Albert Kok / Creative Commons

Also known as the Zambezi shark, the bull shark is known for its aggressive nature. The vulnerable species can grow up to 11 feet tall and usually weigh anywhere between 200 to 500 pounds. Bull sharks are often regarded as the most dangerous shark species. This is because of their aggressive natures as well as how well they can travel rivers. 

One major myth about bull sharks is that they are mindless and seek out humans to kill. Research debunks this myth. It suggests instead, that sharks just often mistake us for their food and do not actively seek us out. This would explain why bull shark attacks are a rarity.

Luckily, there have only been two sightings of bull sharks in the entire Mississippi which spans 2,340 miles. Bull sharks thrive in both freshwater and saltwater and despite how easily they swim far up in rivers, they are not commonly seen. They can live in both salt and fresh water because of their glands and kidneys which have special functions that allow them to retain salt when in freshwater.

Bull sharks mostly eat various species of fish as well as other shark species. They have even been known to eat other bull sharks- although this is rather rare. Typically, this species will live for up to 16 years.

Gulf Sturgeon

Gulf Sturgeon
Individual gulf sturgeons can live over 100 years.

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The gulf sturgeon is only 1 of the 7 species of sturgeons scattered across America. This species is found in the Mississippi River and stands out mainly because of its weird looks and size. It has five rows of scutes which are bony plates spread across its body. Their snouts have 4 barbels that hang right in front of their mouths. They also have tails or lobes of unequal sizes. This, as well as their size and build, makes them look like sharks.

The species is known to grow as long as 8 feet and weigh more than 300 pounds! They are massive fish. The gulf sturgeon is similar to sharks in other ways. Gulf sturgeons can jump up to 9 feet in the air- an incredible height even when compared with the highest-jumping sharks.

However, size-wise, gulf sturgeons certainly aren’t the largest of their species. The white sturgeon, another species, can grow as long as 20 feet and weigh over 1,500 pounds! Gulf sturgeons start their lives in freshwater and then move to saltwater. Just like salmon, they are anadromous. They can live for over 100 years!

Blue Catfish

Blue Catfish
The blue catfish is named for its bluish-gray color. They eat small fish and blue crabs.

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The blue catfish is the largest of North American catfish species and is a native to the Mississippi River. Typically, they grow as long as 36 inches and weigh up to 20 pounds. In 2018, Nick Anderson caught a record-breaking blue catfish that weighed 143 pounds! The fish was caught in the John Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake) in North Carolina!

The blue catfish is named for its bluish-gray color. They have four barbels that look like whiskers on each side of their mouth. These unusual fish eat small fish and blue crabs. They are often caught as they are considered a delicacy. Like many other fish species, the blue catfish’s major threats are humans. Luckily, they are neither threatened nor endangered.

Blue catfish are known to live for an average of 25 years. When they are in the larva stage, they stay close together. Adults, however, take solitary paths and like to be left alone except when they mate. The species mate once each year during a period between April and June.

Alligator Gar

An Alligator gar, Atractosteus spatula, while swimming in a huge aquarium
Alligator gar are one of the largest freshwater fish found in North America.

Bill Roque/Shutterstock.com

The alligator gar is a fish that looks like an alligator and plays a similar role to sharks in the ecosystem. This fish species is named after its looks. It has a very long body and snout which houses its really sharp teeth. However, the alligator gar is a fish because it has fins and lives underwater. 

The alligator gar isn’t a picky eater and eats smaller fish, turtles, as well as mammals, and birds! They are amazing jumpers. Due to their non-picky nature, they help keep the population of several species in check, just like sharks. 

They have really good vision and the ability to detect chemicals in the water. These traits make them amazing hunters. Just like their appetites, they are really large fish. The alligator gar is ranked as one of the largest freshwater fishes found in Northern America. On average, they grow up to 6 ½ feet and weigh up to 100 pounds. However, some alligator gar grow up to 10 feet in height and 350 pounds in weight!

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