Plants and Animals

Acipenser fulvescens Lake sturgeon

species photo

Key Characteristics

Lake sturgeon are characterized by a robust, torpedo-shaped body covered by five rows of bony plates or scutes. The snout is cone-shaped with four barbells preceding a ventral mouth. The tail is asymmetrical with a longer upper lobe (heterocercal).

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G3G4 - Rank is uncertain, ranging from vulnerable to apparently secure
State Rank: S2 - Imperiled


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Alger 1 2010
Allegan 2 2016
Alpena 1 1991
Baraga 2 1998
Berrien 2 1970
Cheboygan 5 2017
Chippewa 3 2007
Delta 2 1970
Houghton 3 2013
Huron 1
Iosco 1 1970
Kent 1 1970
Luce 1 1970
Mackinac 3 1994
Macomb 6 2001
Manistee 2 2005
Menominee 1 1980
Muskegon 1 2015
Newaygo 1 2015
Otsego 1 2014
Presque Isle 1 2005
Schoolcraft 1 2010
St. Clair 3 2016
Wayne 8 2016

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Lake sturgeon are generally benthic species and occur in large rivers and shallow areas of large lakes. They are most often associated with unvegetated deep run and pool habitats (>5ft) in rivers (Hay-Chmielewski and Whelan 1997). In lakes, habitat use varies and depends on availability. Spawning often occurs in gravel bottom streams, but rocky, wave-swept lake shore and islands areas are also used when riverine habitats are unavailable.

Specific Habitat Needs

Cobble substrate needed in: Great lake, littoral, benthic; Great lake, littoral, midwater; Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), riffle; River (5th-6th order), pool; River (5th-6th order), run; River (5th-6th order), riffle; 

Organic matter substrates needed in: Great lake, littoral, benthic; Great lake, littoral, midwater; River (5th-6th order), pool; River (5th-6th order), run; 

Sandy substrate needed in: Great lake, littoral, benthic; Great lake, littoral, midwater; River (5th-6th order), pool; River (5th-6th order), run; 

Natural Community Types

  • Great lake, littoral, benthic
  • Great lake, littoral, midwater
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), riffle
  • River (5th-6th order), pool
  • River (5th-6th order), run
  • River (5th-6th order), riffle

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Sturgeon are on the decline worldwide. Obstacles to rehabilitating sturgeon include physical barriers to migration, loss and degradation of spawning and nursery areas, and fishing pressures (Rochard et al. 1990). Declining water quality, sea lamprey parasitism, zebra mussel colonization of spawning habitats, predation of eggs by round gobies, and contaminants are additional threats in the Great Lakes (Hay-Chmielewski and Whelan 1997). Stream conservation practices, such as maintaining or establishing sufficient riparian buffers or natural flows, and chemical pollution and exotic species control are important steps to managing for sturgeon populations.

Active Period

Spawning from first week of May to fourth week of June

Survey Methods

Sturgeon are found in such varied habitats that a wide variety of sampling techniques are used. Hydroacoustic technology are currently being tested for use in sturgeon population assessments.


Survey Period: From first week of April to fourth week of October


Survey Period: From first week of April to fourth week of October

Gill nets

Survey Period: From first week of November to fourth week of October


Survey Period: From first week of November to fourth week of October


Survey References

  • Murphy, B.R. and D.W. Willis, eds. 1996. Fisheries Techniques, 2nd ed. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda. 732pp.

Technical References

  • Bailey, R.M., W.C. Latta, and G.R. Smith. 2004. An Atlas of Michigan Fishes. Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, No. 192, Ann Arbor. 215p.
  • Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.
  • Goforth, R.R. 2000. Special Animal Abstract for Acipenser fulvescens (Lake Sturgeon). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 4pp.
  • Hay-Chielewski, E.M. and G. Whelan, eds. 1997.Lake sturgeon rehabilitation strategy. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Division, Special Report No. 18. 51pp.
  • Rochard, E., G. Castelnaud and M. Lepage. 1990. Sturgeon (Pisces: Acipenseridae); Threats and prospects. Journal of Fish Biology 37 (Supplement A): 123-132.
  • Smith, P.W. 1961. The amphibians and reptiles of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey, Carbondale. Bulletin No. 28. 298 pp.