How would you like to have a name like shovelnose? It sounds more like one of Superman's arch-rivals than it does a name for a fish.
But in Montana, the name shovelnose belongs to a special fish-the shovelnose sturgeon. It's a native Montanan, and it's our feature fish for this issue of the M*A*Y Club.
Look at the picture of the shovelnose sturgeon. It's one of the strangest looking fish in Montana. If you looked at the family tree of the sturgeon, you would see that it goes back a long, long, LONG! time. Sturgeon belong to one of the oldest known families of fish. Their history can be traced back over 200 million years! Maybe you can imagine them swimming in an ancient sea, surrounded by dinosaurs.
Shovelnose sturgeon even look a little bit like a dinosaur. They have a shark-like tail-the top half is much longer than the bottom half. There are not many freshwater fish which have a tail like this. Also much like a shark, sturgeon have a skeleton that is composed of cartilage, rather than bone. They also have a row of bony plates, called "scutes", which extend down their side. These scutes are almost like armor plates, since they are so hard.
Sturgeon also have barbells, which are the small whiskers which hang below their snout. Their mouth is also very interesting. It is located on the bottom of the sturgeon's snout. Why do you think think that is? It's probably because sturgeon cruise along the bottom, looking for their food. When they see, smell, or taste something they want to eat, their mouth extends down and they vacuum the food up off the bottom.
One of the best places to find shovelnose sturgeon in Montana is in the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. They like strong current, and because of the shape of their bodies they are able to hold their position in the water with ease. They are also found in other rivers east of the continental divide, and sometimes even in some of the reservoirs of these same rivers.
The are several kinds of sturgeon in Montana, and the shovelnose is the smallest. They do not grow to much over three feet long, and weigh a few pounds. Compared to many fish, they can live to be quite old however, and a sturgeon may live to be twenty or more years old.
So no matter how strange their name may sound, there is a lot to like about a fish like the shovelnose sturgeon. Their shape, armor plates, and strange mouth and tail make them one of the most interesting fish in Montana. And best of all, they have been around a long, long time. And, if their species has outlived the dinosaurs, they must be doing something right!