Sometimes I cannot help but be amazed by nature. Just look around at all the beauty found in the land, plants and animals all over the world. And at other times I cannot help but be puzzled at some of the weirdness nature provides as well. Certain characteristics about plants or animals are downright ridiculous. Any funny-looking animals keep meme-generators going at full steam ahead. The largest concentration of unusual animals would have to be found underwater. And for this month’s Fishy Facts blog we will focus on one such interesting finned-friend: The American Paddlefish.
The American paddlefish is a prehistoric looking fish that is closely related to sturgeon. The term prehistoric is well earned for this fish as some of their fossil records go back hundreds of millions of years ago. They are a smooth-skinned fish that used to inhabit wide ranges of freshwater in North America. Currently there are only two species of paddlefish left in the world (the American and the Chinese) and both of which are considered vulnerable or critically endangered (respectively).
They are named after the characteristic front snout (or rostrum) that is shaped like a paddle. This rostrum is loaded with sensory receptors that are key for finding their main food source. The paddlefish’s main diet consists of zooplankton. They are filter-feeders, so they will swim around with their mouths wide open collecting their microscopic meals.
American paddlefish were once common throughout the Mississippi River Basin. Due to habitat loss, pollution and overfishing their numbers are significantly depleted. Their once native range has been reduced to being found in only twenty-two states and are protected in all of them.
Fishing for paddlefish is still legal, just where sustainable. Some areas rely on governmental restocking programs to keep these fish present. While these fish eat the most miniscule of food, they grow quite large and are impressive fighters. (You would have to be, to survive millions of years of sharing water.) But because they are filter feeders, paddlefish will not go after baits or lures. (Have you ever tried hooking into zooplankton?) Fisherman actually try to snag their targets in order to catch them. In several states the record for these fish is well over 120 pounds! In fact, the largest on record catching of an American paddlefish was about 200 pounds and over 6 feet long!
Huge efforts have come into place to keep the paddlefish around. They are commonly raised to keep their numbers going. They are also sources of consumption, for both their meat and caviar. Because of this they are also raised in other parts of the world, including China.
Of course without knowledge, there can be no education. Many people have become more aware of these magnificent fish lately. Paddlefish are becoming more and more common in aquariums as an example of why we must protect our most precious resources.
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