Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis)
Did You Know?
·. Largetooth sawfish can have 14-23 teeth on each side of their "saw," or rostrum. Males average two more rostral teeth per side than females.
A comparison of smalltooth sawfish rostrum (left) and largetooth sawfish rostrum (right)
Photo: © Florida Museum of Natural History
*(formerly Pristis perotteti, Pristis pristis, and Pristis microdon)Species Description
|Weight:||1,300 pounds (600 kg)|
|Length:||up to 23 feet (6.5 m)|
|Appearance:||known for their "saws," long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth|
|Lifespan:||up to 80 years; they reach maturity at 8-10 years (~10 feet (3 m) in length)|
|Diet:||mostly fish, but also crustaceans and mollusks|
|Behavior:||"ovoviviparous", meaning the mother holds the eggs inside of her until the young are ready to be born; gestation lasts 5 months and litter sizes range from 1 – 13 pups; reproduction occurs in freshwater|
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 and mollusks.
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 14-23 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.
Recent genetic analyses have shown that the species and populations formerly known as P. perotetti, P. microdon, and P. pristis are actually the same species of sawfish and are now known as the largetooth sawfish, P. pristis.
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 scientists believe they spend most of their time on the bottom, most observations occur when they are swimming near the surface in the wild.
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 have the largest historic range of all sawfishes. The species historically occurred throughout the Indo-Pacific near southeast Asia and Australia and throughout the Indian Ocean to east Africa. Largetooth sawfish have also been noted in the eastern Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Ecuador or possibly Peru. In the Atlantic Ocean, largetooth sawfish historically inhabited warm temperate to tropical marine waters from Brazil to the Gulf of Mexico in the western Atlantic, and Namibia to Mauritania in the eastern Atlantic.
Current reports of largetooth sawfish throughout the Indian Ocean are isolated and rare and include India and Madagascar. The only recent reports in the Indo-Pacific are in Indonesia and northern and western Australia. The only recent reports of largetooth sawfish in the eastern Pacific are anecdotal reports from Columbia, Nicaragua, and Panama. In the western Atlantic recent reports only exist from Costa Rica and Brazil. In the eastern Atlantic, the range of sawfishes has decreased to the Bissagos Archipelago in Guinea Bissau.
P. perotetti occur in warm temperate to tropical waters in the Atlantic, and Caribbean and freshwater habitats in Central and South America and Africa. Currently, they are thought to primarily occur in freshwater habitats in Central (including Mexico) and South America and West Africa.
Historically, P. perotetti occurred from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico south through Brazil, and in the United States they 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 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). Appendix I limits international trade in species to exceptional circumstances only.
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, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians requesting that this species be listed under the ESA.
We completed a status report in March 2010. On May 7, 2010, we published a proposed rule to list the species as endangered. On July 12, 2011, we published a final rule listing this species as endangered under the ESA.
In September 2010, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians requesting that six species of sawfishes be listed under the ESA.
On June 4, 2013, we published a proposed rule to list the species as endangered. This proposed rule accepted recently proposed taxonomic changes to the sawfishes that has resulted in the largetooth sawfish known as P. pristis being revised to include the species formerly known as P. microdon and P. perotetti.
In December 2014, we published the final rule to list the species as endangered as P. pristis.
|Final Listing of 5 Species of Sawfish||79 FR 73978||12/12/2014|
|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: December 16, 2014