Endangered species on display at Cape's Nature Center

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Cape Girardeau, Mo. -- The Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center has added a rare opportunity to view endangered pallid sturgeon and the unique western lesser siren up close.

Dave Herzog, Resource Science Supervisor at MDC's Big Rivers and Wetlands Field Station, said this is a very exciting development.

"The display of pallid sturgeon at the Cape Nature Center has already provided thousands of school age students and visitors the opportunity to see an endangered species up close," Herzog said. "Many accolades go to everyone that supported this effort."

The pallid sturgeon is similar to the shovelnose sturgeon, but it has a longer and more pointed snout. It's grayish-white in color and can exceed 30 inches in length. If caught while fishing, it should be returned unharmed to the water immediately, because it’s a species listed as endangered by both the state of Missouri and the U.S. government.

These fish are bottom dwellers in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and are found in areas of strong current that have firm sand substrates in the main river channels. They eat small fish and immature aquatic insects that they suck up from the bottom of the river. These fish have a long life cycle of at least 40 years. It was once a commercially fished species, but over harvest, dam construction and habitat loss have reduced their numbers to dangerously low levels.

The western lesser siren is an elongated or eel-like aquatic amphibian. This species is unique to our wetlands and lowland Mississippi region, but it is not listed as endangered or threatened.

Herzog said these rare species are able to be on display at the Nature Center because fish hatcheries at times produce more fish than are needed for meeting stocking quotas.

"This endangered species live display adds significant value to our ability to educate the public," said Sara Turner, the Nature Center Manager. "We encourage folks to come in and take advantage of the opportunity to see these species up close."

The Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Additional evening programs are listed on the center's schedule of events at tinyurl.com/bxcn2f8. More information about the pallid sturgeon and western lesser siren can be found at mdc.mo.gov.