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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Working Together to Protect Michigan’s Species

DNR moose survey results estimate a population increase (Upper Peninsula DNR News): Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists estimate the number of moose in the western Upper Peninsula core population area at 378 animals, up from 285 in 2015.

Help continue to protect moose throughout Northern Michigan by participating in MNA’s Moose on the Loose Family Fun Run & 5K on Saturday, August 26 at Presque Isle Park in Marquette!

Image result for northern michigan moose

Studying Michigan’s massasaugas, the state’s poisonous rattlers (Showcasing the DNR bulletin): Michigan has become an important laboratory for the study and preservation of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous viper that inhabits the state. Massasauga rattlesnakes were listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 and are thereby protected animals.

Help protect habitat for the threatened massasauga at the Rattlesnake Family Fun Run & 5K on September 17 on the Paint Creek Trail in Rochester!

Massasauga rattlesnakes are found in wetland areas in Michigan.

Climb aboard as the DNR surveys lake sturgeon (Showcasing the DNR bulletin): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been monitoring sturgeon populations on the St. Clair River for the last 25 years with a technique that is as old as fishing itself. DNR crews use set lines that are anchored to the bottom of the river channel and sport numerous hooks to catch and tag the mysterious prehistoric fish.

Learn more about lake sturgeon on October 8 at the Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K on Belle Isle in Detroit!

Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries assistant Jason Pauken Jason Pauken shows off a St. Clair River sturgeon.

2017 Race for Michigan Nature to Benefit Endangered Species

5K Race Banner for social media

Sign up today! 
Join MNA in the Race for Michigan Nature series across the state

Enjoy the beautiful outdoors and run, walk, or jog along the park trails in select cities across Michigan with the Michigan Nature Association!

MNA’s statewide Race for Michigan Nature series of Family Fun Runs & 5Ks stretches from Belle Isle in Detroit to Marquette in the U.P. The races are  endorsed by the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports and qualify for the Pure Michigan Challenge.

The Family Fun Runs & 5Ks will promote efforts to preserve habitat for threatened and endangered species throughout Michigan.

Register Today

Bring the whole family! The Kids Fun Run will be a 1 mile race 30 minutes prior to the 5K.

Kids 1 Mile Fun Run: $10
5K Run/Walk: Early registration is just $25 ($30 day-of).

Participants will receive a commemorative Run t-shirt and a finisher medal!
Prizes for the top male and female runners.

If you have any questions please call Jess at
866-223-2231 or email her at jfoxen@michigannature.org.

We hope to see you there!

Find a race in your area!

​Karner Blue Butterfly Family Fun Run & 5K
Saturday, May 20
Millennium Park, Grand Rapids
Register!

Karner Blue 5K logo - 300 dpi 2

Moose on the Loose Family Fun Run & 5K
Saturday, August 26
Presque Isle Park, Marquette
Register!

Moose 5K logo

Rattlesnake Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, September 17
Paint Creek Trail, Rochester
Register!

Rattlesnake Run 5K logo - 300 dpi

Turtle Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, September 24
Gallup Park, Ann Arbor
Register!

Turtle Run 5K logo - 300 dpi

Monarch March Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, October 1
Mayor’s Riverfront Park, Kalamazoo
Register!

Monarch March 5K logo - 300 dpi

Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, October 8
Belle Isle Park, Detroit
Register!

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Lake Sturgeon, Ice Coverage, and Tree Identification: this week in environmental news

lake-sturgeon

Juvenile lake sturgeon. Image: Michigan DNR.

Seasonal lake sturgeon releases put nearly 8,000 fish into Michigan waters (Michigan DNR): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and several partners released more than 7,800 juvenile lake sturgeon into various public waters across the state this summer and fall in an effort to rehabilitate this culturally significant fish species. The juvenile fish were collected from the wild last spring and reared in streamside facilities until they reached at least seven inches or larger in size. Most fish were tagged prior to being released into their respective rivers to allow future evaluations of stocked fish.

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Ice Chart for Nov 28, 2013. Image: GLERL Digital Ice Database

How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter? (MSU Extension): Our last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92 percent of the Lakes were frozen over. So, during a really good ice winter, like that of 2013-14, how early did ice start forming in the Great Lakes? As early as Thanksgiving, 2013, (November 28) ice had already started forming and by December 31, 2013, there was significant cover. Now fast forward to 2016. There is no ice formed anywhere in the Great Lakes and we are past Thanksgiving. The reason is that all the Great Lakes are at their highest average temperatures for at least the past 5 years. As researchers continue to study and gather data on Great Lakes ice cover, we will begin to more thoroughly understand impacts, implications and ecological functions of Great Lakes ice cover.

Tree identification (MSU Extension): Michigan boasts around 100 tree species, depending upon how a tree is defined. There are about a dozen characteristics available to help identify trees. Learning which subset of characteristics to use for a particular tree is where practice and skill are needed. Some characteristics are seasonal, such as leaves, fruits, and flowers. Most others are more year-round, such as twig and branching patterns, buds, bud scars, bark, tree form, site, and tree associates.

Online tool combats sales of invasives (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes Commission created a web tool designed to prevent sales of aquatic invasive species over the Internet. The software searches the web looking for sites selling plants or animals invasive to the Great Lakes and then records the data. The project’s director says most of the invaders purchased are aquatic plants. They make their way from homes into the environment. Being aware of what you buy is key to preventing accidental purchases of invasive species online.

Asian carp, algae blooms and the Kirtland’s warbler: this week in environmental news

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

The Kirtland's warbler. Photo by Cindy Mead.

The Kirtland’s warbler. Photo by Cindy Mead.

Asian carp spawning moves closer to Lake Michigan (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel): New evidence shows that spawning Asian carp have been found nearly 100 miles upstream from their previous spawning sites, putting them closer to Lake Michigan. Last month, President Obama introduced efforts to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp, including upgrading electronic barriers.

Huron Pines receives grant to help fund Kirtland warbler efforts (Alpena News): Huron Pines has received a $171,000 grant to continue its work building a support network for the Kirtland’s warbler. The organization will use the funds to continue to build relationships between federal, state, regional and private partners to support the bird when it’s removed from the Endangered Species List.

Lake Erie algae bloom intensifying (ABC 13): A new report shows that the algae bloom in Lake Erie is intensifying. At Ohio’s Maumee Bay State Park, a health advisory posted at the beach indicates there are unsafe levels of bacteria in the water. This bloom is not as large as Lake Erie’s 2011 bloom, but it is larger than last year.

Speed limits affect birds’ behavior (Conservation Magazine): A new study shows that European birds fly away from cars sooner on roads with higher speed limits. The study, conducted on roads in France, observed 134 flights by birds from 21 species, mainly carrion crows, house sparrows, and common blackbirds. It was noted that the actual speed of the vehicle did not affect the birds’ flights.

Catch a close view of some iconic fish (Up North Live): On Friday, August 30, the Black River sturgeon hatchery will be offering public tours from 9 a.m. to noon. During the tours, researchers from the DNR and Michigan State University will discuss lake sturgeon biology, reproductive ecology, and research. The hatchery is located in Cheboygan County on the Upper Black River. Tours are free of charge.

 

Farm bill, lake sturgeon, and blueberries: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

International Joint Commission issues Great Lakes report card (Great Lakes Echo): According to the International Joint Commission’s latest progress report, Michigan’s Great Lakes are experiencing some new problems, mainly linked to warmer temperatures. According to Lana Pollack, former Michigan Environmental Council president, warm temperatures are taking their toll on lake ecology, dramatically impacting species that were once considered stable in these areas. The commission summarized that, tough protection measures have greatly improved the quality of the Great Lakes in recent decades, the area now requires a new type of conservational attention.

Stabenow calls for passage of Senate farm bill (East Village Magazine): U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow joined with Michigan agricultural and conservationist leaders Wednesday to call for the passage of her 2013 Farm Bill. The bill is a major reform of past agriculture programs, and yields $24 billion in spending cuts. The reforms increase investments to create more jobs in the agriculture industry while aiming to save taxpayer dollars overall. The Senate Committee passed the bill by a strong bipartisan vote on May 15, and a final Senate vote is expected next week.

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Lake Sturgeon.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Restoring an ancient Great Lakes fish (Michigan Water Stewardship Program): Federal and state officials have joined with the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi to rebuild the lake sturgeon habitat in the Kalamazoo River. Currently, the lake sturgeon population is declining below sustainable levels in the area, and fewer than 125 exist in the Kalamazoo River today. Conservationists are attempting to raise these numbers by reconstructing areas of cobblestones, rock and sand at the bottom of the river, which the sturgeon use for spawning.

Does Climate Change Impact Tornadoes? The Scientific Jury Is Still Out (TakePart): Though multiple theories exist, some scientists are beginning to suspect that stronger tornadoes, such as the twister that hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, may be linked to climate change. Humid air masses coming off the Gulf of Mexico could increase from warmer global temperatures and, as a result, increasingly clash with cold northern air masses to form more tornadoes. Still, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges this hypothesis, the organization does not believe there is enough data to prove it true at this time.

Honeybees, other bees put to the test pollinating Michigan blueberries (mlive): Planting wildflowers near blueberry plants may increase the crop’s yields, according to a recent study conducted at Michigan State University. The wildflowers attract bees and other pollinating insects, which additionally support blueberry plants. These findings will lead to a larger study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testing ways to make full use of pollination on a broader scale.