Polyodon spathula
Paddlefish Profile

Paddlefish are a primitive fish that have occurred in North America since the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. It is thought to have historically used Tippo Bayou, which runs through Tallahatchie NWR, as a spawning area.

Paddlefish can live up to 55 years (though average lifespan is 20-30), growing to be over seven feet long and up to 200 pounds. However, the average paddlefish will grow to five feet in length and 60 pounds. Like sharks, paddlefish have skeletons made of cartilage, not bone. Paddlefish are easy to identify, with long, flat blade-like extended upper jaws that are almost one-third of their entire body length. This is known as a rostrum. The underside of the "paddle," or rostrum, is covered with electrorecepetors which gather information about the surrounding environment. It is thought that their larger snouts help detect prey, direct plankton into the mouth, or facilitate migratory behavior.

As filter feeders, they have no teeth and instead use large gill rakers to strain zooplankton out of the water. They feed by swimming through the water with the mouth held wide open, scooping up tiny animals in the water (zooplankton). This is a rare behavior among freshwater fish.

Paddlefish are most often found in the deeper, slow-moving waters of backwaters, oxbows and other turbid river-lakes. They can be found in most large river systems throughout the Mississippi Valley and adjacent Gulf slope drainages in North America. It is a highly mobile species, sometimes traveling more than 2,000 miles within a river system.

Although these fish were once common in the rivers of the central U.S., they are now declining in population and distribution. Population declines are attributed to overharvest, sedimentation, pollution, habitat loss from river modifications, and increased competition from various species of introduced Asian carp.

Facts About Paddlefish

Carnivore (mostly zooplankton)
Average Lifespan
20-30 years
60 lb., 5' long