The Mississippi River stretches over 2,000 miles and is the second-largest river in North America. Starting at Lake Itasca in Minnesota, the river runs through the United States and drains into the Gulf of Mexico below New Orleans. As one of the greatest water highways in the world, the Mississippi River provides a valuable home and water source to the nearby animals that live near it. Hundreds of animals rely on this waterway to survive, but one that is among the most interesting is the large dinosaur that lives in the Mississippi River.
The dinosaurs that live in the Mississippi River are not alligators or even reptiles, as some may think, but an ancient species of fish called the Gulf sturgeon. One of the oldest fish species in North America, Gulf sturgeon have existed for around 200 million years and were even around in the age of the dinosaurs. Let’s take a look at the dinosaurs that live in the Mississippi River and why Gulf sturgeon are such intriguing animals.
Gulf Sturgeon: The Dinosaur of the Mississippi River
Gulf sturgeon are a subspecies of the Atlantic sturgeon and are an ancient fish that has been evolving for 200 million years. These fish are extremely large, weighing between 150 and 300 lbs. They grow up to 9 feet long and are covered in bony plates instead of scales, giving them a prehistoric appearance.
Sturgeons are known for their flat snout and elongated bodies. The largest sturgeon species in the world is the Beluga sturgeon, which weighs over 3,000 lbs.
Gulf sturgeon have a bluish-black, to brown coloring, with a white belly. There are 27 species of sturgeon, with their earliest fossil dating to the Late Cretaceous Period. Sturgeon are called living dinosaurs since they have remained relatively the same for around 200 million years and have undergone very few evolutionary changes.
Where Do Gulf Sturgeon Live?
The Mississippi River is one of the main habitats for Gulf sturgeon, but they are also found in other similar habitats like the Pearl and Pascagoula river that also drain into the Gulf Coast. Spring, from March to May, is the breeding season for Gulf sturgeon. They reproduce by spawning, which is done in rivers and other inland freshwaters.
Gulf sturgeon live in the rivers where they were born for around 2 years, then they travel into the Gulf Sea to mature enough to breed. This species lives in waters from the Mississippi River up into the Suwannee River in Florida. When fully mature at around 8 to 12 years of age, Gulf sturgeon return to the place where they were born to mate, leaving back into the Gulf Sea when summer comes.
What Do Gulf Sturgeon Eat?
Gulf sturgeon are benthivorous and feed on small invertebrates found at the bottom of bodies of water. Not having the best eyesight, the barbells on their face help them detect the food they eat.
Some animals sturgeon eat include:
Gulf sturgeons and other similar species don’t have teeth and feed by sucking in food like a vacuum. They also have electroreceptors in their head, letting them detect signals from nearby prey. Younger fish feed more often, needing the nutrients to grow. Sturgeon have a long life span and slow growth rate, taking years to fully mature.
Why are Sturgeon Endangered?
Sturgeon are one of the few living dinosaurs on earth, but sadly many of the species are endangered. Gulf sturgeon inhabit the Mississippi River and are a subspecies of the Atlantic sturgeon. In total, 8 current species of sturgeon live in North America.
Eight species of sturgeon in North America:
- White sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus)
- Green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris)
- Shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum)
- Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)
- Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus)
- Pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus)
- Alabama sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus suttkusi)
- Shovelnose sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus)
All the species of sturgeon in North America are endangered, vulnerable, threatened, or near threatened as a species. Fishing, habitat destruction, and the buildings of dams are what have contributed to their population loss. While these living dinosaurs live in the Mississippi River, Great Lakes, and other large water sources, if not preserved, they may end up extinct just as the dinosaurs they lived with.
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