The sawfish earned its menacing name from the chainsaw-like appendage that extends from its head. The long, flattened snout (or rostrum) is lined with sharp teeth.
Sawfish swing their rostrums through the water to impale passing prey. They also use their long, rigid snouts to root for food in the sand, digging up hidden shrimp and small crustaceans.
Though they resemble and are closely related to sharks, sawfish are actually in the ray order. Like both groups of elasmobranchs, the sawfish's skeleton is made of cartilage.
Two groups—the smalltooth and largetooth sawfish—historically inhabited U.S. coastal waters, but the largetooth has not been spotted for more than 50 years. Both still survive in tropical and subtropical waters across the globe. Some even travel into river systems and estuaries. One simple way to tell the two apart is by their rostral teeth. The smalltooth's snout typically has between 23 and 34 teeth. The largetooth has significantly fewer—only about 14 to 23.
Smaller sawfish species average 18 feet and about 700 pounds, but largetooth sawfish can weigh upward of 1,300 pounds and measure nearly 23 feet long. Despite their ominous appearance, sawfish are relatively passive animals unless provoked.
The earliest sawfish date back 100 million years. Unfortunately, modern populations have been on the decline, and sawfish are now considered endangered. The rays are threatened by overharvesting and are often the victims of bycatch, because their rostrums are easily entangled in fishing gear.
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