Wild Guide

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From Missouri Conservationist: April 2018

Paddlefish | Polyodon spathula


Highest in impoundments


  • Length: to about 7 feet
  • Weight: to 160 pounds or more


Historically found in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Osage rivers, and other streams; now stocked in impoundments Sharklike, with a greatly elongated paddle-shaped snout, paddlefish — also known as spoonbill — is one of the most ancestral fish species alive today. River modifications, especially channelization, damming, and impoundments, have diminished the paddlefish’s habitat, and overharvesting has contributed to its decline. In fact, the species’ closest relative, the Chinese  paddlefish, recently became extinct. The species is of great importance to biological research.

Life Cycle

Spawning occurs in late spring at times of high water. Eggs are deposited on silt free gravel bars where they are exposed to air or covered by shallow water. The eggs hatch and the larval fish are swept downstream to deeper pools where they grow to adulthood. Paddlefish can attain a length of 10 to 14 inches their first year, and by age 17, can be 60 inches long. Paddlefish can live to be 30 years old or more


Paddlefish swim slowly with their mouths wide open, collecting tiny crustaceans and insects in their elaborate, closely set gill rakers.

Ecosystem Connections

Paddlefish constantly graze on tiny aquatic organisms, helping to keep their populations in check. Paddlefish and their eggs and fry provide food for other aquatic predators.

Did You Know?

Paddlefish is Missouri’s official state aquatic animal. It is highly valued as a sport fish — both for its flesh and its caviar.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler