Mississippi paddlefish

Polyodon spathula
Paddlefish Our very own 'fossil fish'
Type fish
Length 1.5m
Weight 27kg
Diet zooplanktivore
  • Summary

    The paddlefish is characterised by its elongated flat snout and is almost completely scale-less. This snout or ‘rostrum’ can be as much as 50% of the body length and it is covered in electroreceptors. It has a large mouth with gill rakers for filter feeding.

    This creature is known as a ‘fossil fish’ being virtually unchanged from its ancestors, fossils of which date back to the Cretaceous Period; 145 to 65 million years ago.

  • Dietary

    Paddlefish are zooplanktivores (filter feeder), eating zooplankton and aquatic larvae.

    In the wild paddlefish swim long distances close to the water surface in search of food. They are able to detect electric impulses given off by zooplankton through their snout or ‘paddle’. The fish will then swim into a cloud of tiny animals with its mouth wide open, straining out the food through their comb-like gill rakers.

  • Habitat


    Paddlefish live in freshwater, and in the wild they are found only in the lakes and slow flowing rivers of the Mississippi and its tributaries. They are usually solitary fish, except at breeding time and as larvae.

    Animal Habitat Range
  • Conservation

    This species is classified as Vulnerable, under threat from over-fishing for meat and roe (eggs) for caviar. Habitat disturbance also affects this fish, with large dams interrupting their spawning migration routes.

    Bristol Zoo is the only UK collection to have this species.

    IUCN Red List species link

  • Did you know...

    A recent study demonstrated that electrosensory receptors in paddlefish rostrum can detect weak electrical fieldsand suggested that paddlefish use their rostrum as an electrosensory "antenna" to detect zooplankton for feeding.

    Paddlefish populations have been negatively affected by overharvest, sedimentation, and river modifications. Dams in particular have had an adverse affect on paddlefish because they alter traditional habitats and can impact spawning migrations.

    Concern for paddlefish stocks has risen because the collapse of most sturgeon stocks in the world has increased demand for paddlefish eggs for the lucrative caviar trade.

  • Where to find us at Bristol Zoo

    You can find our paddlefish in the Aquarium, next to the Reptile House and Bug World

    Bristol Zoo Gardens Map

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