Nine Interesting Facts About Sawfish

Learn About the Fish With a Saw for a Snout

Low Angle View Of Sawfish Swimming In Aquarium
Michael Rabideau / EyeEm / Getty Images

With their very distinctive, flattened snout, sawfish are intriguing animals. Learn about the different characteristics of these fish. What is their "saw"? How is it used? Where does sawfish live? Let's take a look at some facts about sawfish.

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Fact: Sawfish have a unique snout.

Sawfish (Pristidae), underwater view
Michael Melford/The Image Bank/Getty Images

A sawfish's snout is a long, flat blade that has about 20 teeth on either side. This snout may be used to catch fish and also has electroreceptors to detect passing prey.

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Fact: The teeth on a sawfish's snout are not true teeth.

The so-called "teeth" on the sawfish's snout are not actually teeth. They are modified scales. A sawfish's real teeth are located inside its mouth, which is on the fish's underside.

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Fact: Sawfish are related to sharks, skates, and rays.

Sawfish / e.p., Flickr
e.p., Flickr

Sawfish are elasmobranchs, which are fish that have a skeleton made of cartilage. They are part of the group that contains sharks, skates, and rays. There are over 1,000 species of elasmobranchs. Sawfishes are in the family Pristidae, a word which comes from the Greek word for "saw." The NOAA website refers to them as "modified rays with a shark-like body."

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Fact: Two sawfish species occur in the U.S.

There is some debate over the number of sawfish species that exist, especially since sawfish are relatively understudied. According to the World Register of Marine Species, there are four species of sawfish. The largetooth sawfish and the smalltooth sawfish occur in the U.S.

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Fact: Sawfish can grow to over 20 feet long.

Sawfish can reach lengths over 20 feet. The smalltooth sawfish might have small teeth but can be quite long. According to NOAA, the maximum length of a smalltooth sawfish is 25 feet. The green sawfish, which lives off Africa, Asia, and Australia, can reach about 24 feet.

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Fact: Sawfish are found in shallow waters.

Sawfish / lotopspin, Flickr
Sawfish, Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas. Courtesy lotopspin, Flickr

Watch your feet! Sawfish live in shallow waters, often with muddy or sandy bottoms. They may also swim up rivers. 

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Fact: Sawfish eat fish and crustaceans.

Sawfish eat fish and crustaceans, which they find using the sensory capabilities of their saw. They kill the fish and crustaceans by slashing their saw back and forth. The saw may also be used to detect and dislodge prey on the bottom of the ocean.

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Fact: Sawfish are ovoviviparous.

Reproduction occurs through internal fertilization in these species. Sawfish are ovoviviparous, meaning their young are in eggs, but eggs develop inside the mother's body. The young are nourished by a yolk sac. Depending on the species, gestation may last from several months to a year. The pups are born with their saw fully developed, but it is sheathed and flexible to avoid injuring the mother at birth.

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Fact: Sawfish populations have declined.

There appears to be a lack of reliable data on sawfish populations, but NOAA estimates that populations of smalltooth sawfish have declined by 95 percent or more, and largetooth sawfish populations have declined even more dramatically. Threats to sawfish include fishing, bycatch in fishing gear, and habitat loss due to development; the latter particularly affects juveniles who seek shelter in vegetation in shallow water.

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "Nine Interesting Facts About Sawfish." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Kennedy, Jennifer. (2020, August 27). Nine Interesting Facts About Sawfish. Retrieved from Kennedy, Jennifer. "Nine Interesting Facts About Sawfish." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).