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The Mississippi River is a unique river in North America. About 2,350 miles long, it is the fourth longest river in the world. First place goes to the Nile, which is 4,160 miles long. The Mississippi, while long, is about 11 miles across at its widest point. In some parts, however, it’s as slim as 20 to 30 feet.
The Mississippi is old too. Scientists estimate the river is between 5.6 and 40 million years old, but its history spans 70 million years. With such old age, you can imagine how many creatures once called this river home. While many of the species are extinct but are still found as fossils, some animals have been around for millions of years. Read on to learn about some of the oldest animals that call the Mississippi River home.
American paddlefish are native to the Mississippi. Also known as the Mississippi paddlefish. It is a type of ray fin fish. They are closely related to sturgeons. Paddlefish have been around for a long time. The oldest known fossil dates back to the early Cretaceous 125 million years ago. Although they are still commonly found in the river, they used to move more freely under unchanged conditions.
American paddlefish are not threatened, but are listed as Vulnerable. They are about 4.9 feet long and weigh 60 pounds. These unique fish have shark-like bodies. Typically, paddlefish live up to 60 years in the wild and sometimes longer. These large fish are often found in deeper areas with little current. Unfortunately, populations are declining due to overfishing and habitat destruction. The infestation of zebra mussels in the Mississippi is also having a negative impact on these large shark-like fish.
Alligators are walking fossils. Although alligators are not common in the state of Mississippi, they can still be found throughout the river in brackish water near swamps. However, Louisiana has at least 2 million alligators in Louisiana. Alligators have been around for millions of years. Their first early ancestor appeared 245 million years ago.
Alligators are large apex predators. American alligators are primarily found in swamp and swampy areas in southern states. They are massive and easily reach over 14 feet in length. In fact, the world’s largest alligator was 15 feet and 9 inches long, but there have been a few reports of an alligator measuring over 19 feet in Louisiana.
Sturgeons are old fish. The oldest fossil ever found dates from the Late Cretaceous 100.5 million years ago to 66 million years ago. The Gulf sturgeon is a subspecies of sturgeon that lives in the Gulf of Mexico and some rivers that drain into the Gulf. They are considered threatened, and historically scientists believe they lived from the Suwannee River on Florida’s west coast to the Mississippi River. These fish are long and look like sharks. These unique fish also vary in size and weight depending on their diet. The gulf sturgeon feeds mainly or only in winter and fasts in the warm months.
Catfish are among the oldest fish in the world. The first catfish fossil found so far is about 70 million years old. Catfish are important to their environment and a great source of protein and nutrients for us too. Catfish does not refer to a specific species, but to a group of unique ray-finned fish known for their whisker-like, prominent barbels. Some catfish species grow very large, including the Mekong giant catfish. However, some catfish species have become invasive species, particularly across Europe.
There is no shortage of bass fish in the Mississippi. There is one angler favorite that draws them from all over the world. Some bass bass found in the Mississippi include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and striped bass. These big fish live about 5-6 years. However, bass fish, which are native to colder waters, live closer to 20 years. The oldest bass fossil of all time was discovered in Texas, and it is estimated that the bass existed around 26 million years ago. The largest bass ever caught in the state of Mississippi weighed 18 pounds and 15 ounces. Anthony Denny caught this monster fish on December 31, 1992 in Natchez State Park. What a great way to end the year!
Did you know that bull sharks live in the Mississippi? Bull sharks are one of the few sharks that can live in freshwater and saltwater conditions. Sometimes they enter the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. While it’s not as common as you might think, it’s definitely something to see. Bull sharks swim in shallow, warm waters and weigh up to 290 pounds. Although not the largest shark species, they are aggressive and ferocious. Sharks have a long history, including the bull shark. There’s still a lot experts don’t know about these fascinating sharks. However, they are believed to be hundreds of millions of years old.
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