We conducted laboratory studies on the ontogenetic behavior of free embryos (first life interval after hatching) and larvae (first feeding interval) of pallid and shovelnose sturgeon. Migration styles of both species were similar for timing of migration (initiation by embryos on day 0 after hatching and cessation by larvae on days 12-13 at 236-243 cumulative temperature degree units), migration distance (about 13 km), life interval when most distance was moved (embryo), and diel behavior of embryos (diurnal). However, the species differed for two behaviors: movement characteristics of embryos (peak movement rate of pallid sturgeon was only one-half the peak rate of shovelnose sturgeon, but pallid sturgeon continued the lower rate for twice as long) and diel behavior of larvae (pallid sturgeon were diurnal and shovelnose sturgeon were nocturnal). Thus, the species used different methods to move the same distance. Migrating as poorly developed embryos suggests a migration style to avoid predation at the spawning site, but moving from spawning habitat to rearing habitat before first feeding could also be important. Migrants of both species preferred bright habitat (high illumination intensity and white substrate), a behavioral preference that may characterize the migrants of many species of sturgeon. Both species were remarkably similar for swimming height above the bottom by age, and day 7 and older migrants may swim far above the bottom and move far downstream. A migration of 12 or 13 days will probably not distribute larvae throughout the population's range, so an older life interval likely initiates a second longer downstream migration (2-step migration). By day 2, individuals of both species were a black-tail phenotype (light grey body with a black-tail that moved conspicuously during swimming). Aggregation behavior suggests that black-tail is a visual signal used for group cohesion.
Additional publication details
Ontogenetic behavior, migration, and social behavior of pallid sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus albus, and shovelnose sturgeon, S. platorynchus, with notes on the adaptive significance of body color