Paddlefish are easily identified, because of the broad, flat, bill-like snout, which can be almost half the length of their body. Paddlefish skeletons are made of cartilage except for the jawbone. Paddlefish are gray or grayish blue in color with darker backs and lighter bellies. Paddlefish have small eyes, long gill covers, two small whiskers near the mouth, a forked tail and smooth, scaleless skin. Except for the snout, paddlefish look similar to sharks. As they grow and mature the adults do not develop teeth despite such a large mouth.
Paddlefish swim, with their mouths open, filtering food from the water with gill rakers. They feed on plankton and insect larvae in the water. Their bills are covered with taste buds, which help to locate the plankton.
Paddlefish live in the rivers of the Mississippi Valley, western Montana, upper Ohio Valley, southern Great Lakes and Gulf Slope rivers.
Paddlefish live in large, open, slow-moving streams, reservoirs or rivers. They avoid fast flowing water and try to move around mainly when the water level is low. Paddlefish tend to stay in shallow water or near the surface in the downstream side of islands or sandbars.
- Paddlefish were discovered in the 16th century by Hernando Desoto while exploring the Mississippi River Valley.
- The nearest relative of the paddlefish is the Chinese paddlefish or sturgeon, which lives in the Yangtze River in China.
- Paddlefish got their scientific name from Polydon, a Greek word meaning "many tooth" and spathula a Latin word for "blade."