The smalltooth sawfish, sometimes referred to as carpenter sharks, are marine vertebrates of the elasmobranch subclass of cartilagenious fish, which includes sharks and rays.
And although they have an elongated dorsal fin like their genetic cousins, the sharks, sawfish are considered a batoid, more closely related to skates and guitarfish.
Unlike rays, however, sawfish can grow to sizes usually only reserved for their shark brethren. A full-grown male can reach lengths of 20 feet long and weigh over 600 pounds. The average sawfish will be between 10 and 15 feet once it reaches sexual maturity at around 10 years old.
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What truly sets the species apart from both rays and sharks is the eponymous saw-shaped rostrum protruding from its nose, which accounts for over a third of its overall body length. The unique morphology, currently found in only five other species of elasmobranches worldwide, is the result of millions of years of evolution.
The rostrum serves two primary purposes for the sawfish; predation and protection.
The elongated bill is lined with ampullary sensors similar to that of a hammerhead shark which can detect electromagnetic disturbances in the water around it. By swinging its rostrum from side to side as it glides through the water, it essentially acts as a form of radar, enabling the sawfish to create a three-dimensional view of its surroundings. This is an especially useful adaptation since the sawfish’s primary habitat is in shallow, murky water where visibility can be extremely limited.
Once possible prey is located, the sawfish can then use its snout, which is lined with a series of teeth-like structures called denticles, to root out crustaceans buried in the ocean floor or to slash through the water to injure or disorient fish.
About J. Scott Butherus
Multimedia journalist J. Scott Butherus is an award-winning sports writer and videographer and slightly above-mediocre photographer who covers spring training for the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox, the Fort Myers Miracle, outdoors and fishing, PrepZone, and Florida Gulf Coast University. In his spare time, he wrestles sharks and is a career .827 hitter for the company softball team.