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These animals have a flattened extension of their upper jaw, which can be longer than 2 m (6.5 ft.) and more than 30 cm (12 in.) broad. This snout or rostrum is lined with a row of sharp teeth on each side.
External claspers located on the far underside of the body - forward of the caudal fin - distinguish males.
In rare instances, sawfish can reach a size up to 6 m (20 ft.)
Schooling fish and bottom-dwelling, aquatic invertebrates
Ovoviviparous ("egg live birth")
Sawfish are commonly found in tropical seas and in estuary mouths. The smalltooth sawfish (
) is found in tropical Atlantic waters while other species inhabit the Indo-Pacific region. The freshwater sawfish (
) also inhabits freshwater rivers and waters around Australia.
In shallow waters and adjacent estuaries or freshwater rivers or lakes
5 species listed as Endangered,
2 species as Critically Endangered
Sawfishes are a group of about 6 species of carnivorous fishes found in the superorder Batoidea. Sawfishes are in the same superorder as rays, skates, and guitarfishes, and in the same class (Chondrichthyes) that also includes sharks and chimaeras. Chondrichthian animals have a skeleton made of cartilage instead of bone.
Sawfishes can be confused with saw sharks (order Pristiophoriformes), but there are some recognizable differences between them. Sawfishes have 5 pairs of gill slits located on the ventral side of their bodies while saw sharks have gill slits on their sides. Saw sharks also have rostrum teeth alternating in size from large to small, and long, fingerlike barbels hang from their rostrums. Sawfishes have no hanging barbels and their snout teeth are generally uniform in size.
The tooth-lined rostrum of the sawfish can function as a defensive weapon, but it is mostly used to gather food. The sawfish may swing its rostrum back and forth while swimming through a school of fish, stunning them. The mouth of a sawfish is under its body - this positioning allows the animal to eat injured fish that sink to the bottom. Sawfish have also been seen using their snout teeth to root in sediment in search of invertebrates.
For more information about sharks & rays, explore the
Sharks & Rays InfoBook
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
Smalltooth sawfish are generally regarded as gentle and harmless to humans, but they have been known to cause serious injuries if trapped by fishing hooks or nets. Sometimes fishermen consider these animals a nuisance. Sawfish may damage their nets to get to the captured fish inside them. Sawfish are killed for their tooth-lined snouts, which are sold as souvenirs, although the smalltooth sawfish is fully protected by law in the United States.
Fishes of the World
. New York. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1975.
flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/organizations/ssg/ssg.htm (IUCN Shark Specialist Group)