Species Spotlight: Lake Sturgeon

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

lake sturgeon

Though Lake Sturgeon make look intimidating with their armored, angular bodies, it may be fair to classify them as gentle giants of the Great Lakes. They have lived in this region for around 10,000 years – and have existed for around 136 million. Capable of living for 150 years or longer, these ancient freshwater behemoths are the longest-lived of Michigan’s fish species, as well as the largest, having been known to reach lengths of 8 feet and weigh several hundred pounds. It may technically be female sturgeon which are the longest-lived Great Lakes fish, though, as they can outlive males by as much as a century!

Sturgeon are cartilaginous (non-bony) fish with torpedo-shaped bodies. Instead of scales, they have a kind of armor in the form of bony scutes that cover their bodies. Juveniles may be gray or brown, and appear more angular, while adults tend to be lighter in color and may be gray or olive. The growth rates of Sturgeon are highly variable, but cleaner, more temperate waters and greater food availability offer ideal conditions for these fish to grow large.

Sexual maturity in males is reached anywhere from 8 to 22 years for males and 14 to 26 years for females. Spawning occurs in early spring, usually from April to June, when water temperatures warm to 53-64° F in clean, shallow waters and fast-moving stream rapids. Though they accomplish this impressive feat on average only once every 6-7 years, females lay millions of eggs when spawning – that’s an average of 5,500 eggs per pound of fish!

Once, the range of lake sturgeon extended from parts of Canada down to Alabama, and populations in the Great Lakes region were estimated to have numbered in the millions. However, only remnant populations remain. Historic overfishing in the 19th and 20th centuries nearly led to the extinction of lake sturgeon, as well as pollution and habitat loss from dams and deforestation. They are now listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern in all but one of the states throughout their range.

Thankfully, Michigan sponsors efforts to protect sturgeon and restore parts of their habitat. Their spawning period is an especially crucial one, as their preferences for shallow waters make them vulnerable. If you happen to come across sturgeon in the wild, count yourself fortunate to have witnessed these living fossils. Learn more about this iconic Great Lakes species from the DNR website.

Join MNA on Sunday, October 8 for our annual Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K in Detroit! Run along the scenic roadway of Belle Isle State Park. The fee for adults is $25, and $10 for kids. As always, a t-shirt is included and all runners receive a participatory medal! Proceeds will promote efforts to protect the Lake Sturgeon. Register online or contact Jess Foxen at jfoxen@michigannature.org for more information.

A pre-party will be held at Blaze Pizza, located at 3129 Fairlane Drive, Allen Park, from 3-7 pm. Present this flyer with your fast-fire’d creation and Blaze will donate 20% of their proceeds to MNA! Happy running!

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