Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis)
Did You Know?
· Largetooth sawfish can have 30-40 teeth on their "saw," or rostrum.
A comparison of smalltooth sawfish rostrum (left) and largetooth sawfish rostrum (right)
Photo: © Florida Museum of Natural History
*includes species formerly named P. pristis, P. microdon, and P. perotteti (78 FR 33300)
The smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) is another endangered species of sawfish.Species Description
|Weight:||1,300 pounds (600 kg)|
|Length:||21 feet (6.5 m)|
|Appearance:||known for their "saws," long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth|
|Diet:||mostly fish, but also crustaceans|
|Behavior:||"ovoviviparous", meaning the mother holds the eggs inside of her until the young are ready to be born|
Sawfish, like sharks, skates and rays, belong to a group of fish called elasmobranchs, whose skeletons are made of cartilage. Sawfish are actually modified rays with a shark-like body and gill slits on their ventral (abdominal) side.
Early sawfish, distant cousins to modern day sawfish, first appeared in the ocean around 100 million years ago. Today's "modern day" sawfish species have been in the ocean around 56 million years.
Sawfish get their name from their rostrum or "saws"--long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth which are used to locate, stun, and kill prey. Their diet includes mostly fish but also some crustaceans.
Largetooth sawfish may grow to 21 feet (6.5 m) in length and 1300 pounds (600 kg). Little is known about the life history of these animals, but they may live up to 51 years, maturing after about 10 years.
Like many elasmobranchs, largetooth sawfish are "ovoviviparous," meaning the mother holds the eggs inside of her until the young are ready to be born, usually in litters of 1-13 pups with a 5-month gestation period.
Largetooth sawfish and smalltooth sawfish are the two species of sawfish that have historically inhabited U.S. waters, though largetooth sawfish have not been found in the United States in 50 years. The smalltooth sawfish is also listed as endangered under the ESA. The two species can be distinguished by noting the number of teeth on one side of the rostrum. Largetooth sawfish can have between 14-21 rostral teeth on one edge of the saw whereas smalltooth sawfish usually have 23-34. Another way to tell the two species apart is the location of the dorsal fin. The dorsal fin of largetooth sawfish originates anterior to the pelvic fins, while in smalltooth sawfish the first dorsal fin originates along the same axis as the pelvic fins.
Largetooth sawfish are generally restricted to shallow (less than 33 ft (10 m)) coastal, estuarine, and fresh waters, although they have been found at depths of up to 400 feet (122 m) in Lake Nicaragua. They are often found in brackish water near river mouths and large bays, preferring partially enclosed waters, lying in deeper holes and on bottoms of mud or muddy sand. Like the smalltooth sawfish, they are highly mangrove-associated. While it is thought that they spend most of their time on the bottom, they are commonly observed swimming near the surface in the wild and in aquaria.
Certain species of sawfish are known to ascend inland in large river systems, and they are among the few elasmobranchs that are known from freshwater systems in many parts of the world. Largetooth sawfish are particularly well-known from their occurrence in Lake Nicaragua, where there was a commercial fishery for many years.
Historical Range Map
(click for larger view PDF)
Largetooth sawfish occur in warm temperate to tropical waters in the Atlantic, and Caribbean and freshwater habitats in Central and South America and Africa. Currently, largetooth sawfish are thought to primarily occur in freshwater habitats in Central (including Mexico) and South America and West Africa.
Historically, largetooth sawfish occurred from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico south through Brazil, and in the United States largetooth sawfish were reported in the Gulf of Mexico, mainly along the Texas coast and east into Florida waters. In the eastern Atlantic, they occurred from Spain through Angola. Historical occurrences of largetooth sawfish in North America were much more limited than those of the related smalltooth sawfish, and were strictly confined to shallow near-shore, warm (greater than 64-86° F (18-30° C)) temperate and tropical estuarine localities, partly enclosed lagoons, and similar areas.
There are few reliable data available for this species, and no robust estimates of historic or current population size exist. However, available data indicate that the species' distribution has been greatly reduced, and that the population numbers have declined dramatically.
- entanglement in nets, lines, and trawls
- bycatch in fisheries, though in some areas they have been directly targeted
- loss of habitat
- juvenile sawfish use shallow habitats with a lot of vegetation, such as mangrove forests, as important nursery areas. Many such habitats have been modified or lost due to development. The loss of juvenile habitat likely contributed to the decline of this species
The lack of effective regulatory mechanisms internationally has likely contributed to their decline, as well as their restricted habitat and low rate of population growth.
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), it is illegal to catch or harm an endangered sawfish. However, some fishermen catch sawfish incidentally while fishing for other species. NMFS and the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team have developed guidelines for fishermen instructing them how to safely handle and release any sawfish they incidentally catch.
Some states have taken additional step to protect largetooth sawfish species: Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama have prohibited the "take" of sawfish. Texas has listed them as endangered.
All sawfish (Pristidae) species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), except P. microdon, which is listed on Appendix II. Appendix I limits international trade in species to exceptional circumstances only.
The IUCN Red List lists the smalltooth sawfish as critically endangered.
The largetooth sawfish was added to the candidate species list in 1988, removed in 1997, and placed back on the list again in 1999. In April 2009, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) received a petition [pdf] from WildEarth Guardians requesting that this species be listed under the ESA.
NMFS completed a status report in March 2010. On May 7, 2010, NMFS published a proposed rule [pdf] to list the species as endangered. On July 12, 2011, NMFS published a final rule listing this DPS as endangered [pdf] under the ESA.
|12-Month Finding and Proposed Endangered Listing of Five Species of Sawfish, including a proposed change in the scientific name for largetooth sawfish to Pristis pristis||78 FR 33300||06/04/2013|
|Final ESA Listing as Endangered||76 FR 40822||07/12/2011|
|Proposed Listing as Endangered Under the ESA||75 FR 25174||05/07/2010|
|Species of Concern Fact Sheet: Detailed||n/a||02/23/2010|
|90-day finding, Initiation of Status Review||74 FR 37671||07/29/2009|
|Petition from WildEarth Guardians to List Largetooth Sawfish Under the ESA||n/a||04/24/2009|
|Previous 90-day finding (2000)||65 FR 12959||03/10/2000|
|Petition from Ocean Conservancy (formerly Center for Marine Conservation) to List Smalltooth and Largetooth Sawfish under the ESA as a North American "DPS"||n/a||11/30/1999|
- Species Information from NMFS Southeast Region
- IUCN Red List Species Information
- Florida Museum of Natural History Species Information
- Fishbase Species Summary
Updated: June 6, 2013