The biology of extinct and extant sawfish (Batoidea: Sclerorhynchidae and Pristidae)

  • Barbara E. WueringerEmail author
  • Lyle SquireJr.
  • Shaun P. Collin


Sclerorhynchids (extinct sawfishes, Batoidea), pristids (extant sawfish, Batoidea) and pristiophorids (sawsharks, Squalomorphi) are the three elasmobranch families that possess an elongated rostrum with lateral teeth. Sclerorhynchids are the extinct sawfishes of the Cretaceous period, which reached maximum total lengths of 100 cm. The morphology of their rostral teeth is highly variable. Pristid sawfish occur circumtropically and can reach maximum total lengths of around 700 cm. All pristid species are globally endangered due to their restricted habitat inshore. Pristiophorid sawsharks are small sharks of maximum total lengths below 150 cm, which occur in depths of 70–900 m. Close examination of the morphology of pectoral fin basals and the internal structure of the rostrum reveals that sclerorhynchids and pristids evolved independently from rhinobatids, whereas pristiophorids are squalomorph sharks. The elongation of the rostrum may be an adaptation for feeding, as all marine vertebrate taxa that possess this structure are said to use it in the context of feeding.


Pristidae Sclerorhynchidae Sawfish Shark Elasmobranch 



This work was supported by an Endeavour Europe Award, the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Inc. and the Australian Research Council (ARC Linkage LP0989676) to B. Wueringer and S. Collin. The authors would like to thank Friedrich Pfeil for discussions and insights and in identifying the need for this review that combines both extant and extinct species.


  1. Anonymous (2006) EBay bans the sale of endangered sawfish. Via MSNBC Accessed on Jan 24, 2006
  2. Bourdon J (1999) The life and times of long dead sharks. Accessed on July 02, 2008
  3. Breder CM (1952) On the utility of the saw of the sawfish. Copeia 2:90–91. doi: 10.2307/1438539 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cappetta H (1974) Sclerorhynchidae nov. fam., pristidae et pristiophoridae: un exemple de parallelisme chez les selachiens. C R Acad Sci Paris Ser D 278:225–228Google Scholar
  5. Cappetta H (1987) Chondrichthyes II. Mesozoic and cenozoic elasmobranchii. In: Schultze H-P, Kuhn O (eds) Handbook of paleoichthyology. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, p 193Google Scholar
  6. Cappetta H (1991) Decouverte de nouvelles faunes de selaciens (Neoselachii) dans les phosphates maastrichtiens de la Mer Rouge, Egypte. Munchner Geowissenschaftliche Abh Part A 19:17–56Google Scholar
  7. Cappetta H, Case GR (1999) Additions aux faunes de selaciens du Cretace du Texas (Albien superieur-Campanien). Palaeo Ichthyol 9:5–111Google Scholar
  8. Case GR (1987) Borodinopristis schwimmeri, a new ganopristine sawfish from the upper Blufftown formation (Campanian) of the upper Cretaceous of Georgia. Bull N J Acad Sci 32:25–33Google Scholar
  9. Cavanagh RD, Kyne PM, Fowler SL, Musick JA, Bennett MB (2003) The conservation status of Australasian chondrichthyans. Report of the IUCN Shark Spcialist Group. Australia and Oceania Regional Red List workshop. The University of Queensland, School of Biomedical Sciences, Brisbane, Australia, 170 ppGoogle Scholar
  10. Charvet-Almeida P (2002) Sawfish trade in the north of Brazil. IUCN Shark Spec Group Shark News 14:9Google Scholar
  11. Chidlow JA (2007) First record of the freshwater sawfish, Pristis microdon, from southwestern Australian waters. Rec W Aust Mus 23:307–308Google Scholar
  12. Cicimurri DJ (2007) A partial rostrum of the sawfish Pristis lathami Galeotti, 1837, from the Eocene of South Carolina. J Paleontol 81:597–601. doi: 10.1666/05086.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clark S, Violetta G, Henningsen A, Reischuck V, Pete M, Keyon J (2003) Growth in captive smalltooth sawfish, Pristis pectinata. American Elasmobranch Society 19th annual meeting, Manaus, BrazilGoogle Scholar
  14. Compagno LJV (1977) Phylogenetic relationships of living sharks and rays. Am Zool 17:303–322Google Scholar
  15. Compagno LJV, Cook SF (1995) The exploitation and conservation of freshwater elasmobranchs: status of taxa and prospects for the future. J Aquaricult Aquat Sci 7:62–90Google Scholar
  16. Compagno LJV, Last PR (1999) Order Pristiformes. In: Carpenter KE, Niem VH (eds) The living marine resources of the western central Pacific Vol 3. Batoid fishes, chimaeras and bony fishes part 1 (Elopidae to Linophyroidae). FAO, Rome, pp 1397–2068Google Scholar
  17. Compagno L, Dando M, Fowler S (2005) Sharks of the world. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  18. Deynat PP (2005) New data on the systematics and interrelationships of sawfishes (Elasmobranchii, Batoidea, Pristiformes). J Fish Biol 66:1447–1458. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-1112.2005.00695.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Douady CJ, Dosay M, Shivji MS, Stanhope MJ (2003) Molecular phylogenetic evidence refuting the hypothesis of Batoidea (rays and skates) as derived sharks. Mol Phylogen Evol 26:215–221. doi: 10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00333-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Faria V, McDavitt M (2008) The status of Pristis pristis (Chondrichthyes, Pristiformes) reconsidered. American Elasmobranch Society 24th annual meeting, Montreal, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  21. Froese R, Pauly D (2008) FishBase version (02/2008). Accessed July 15, 2008
  22. Gray JE (1864) Notice of a portion of a new form of animal (Myriosteon higginsii), probably indicating a new group of echinodermata. Proc Zool Soc Lond (pt 2):163–166Google Scholar
  23. Herman J, Hovestadt-Euler M, Hovestadt DC, Stehmann M (1997) Contributions to the study of the comparative morphology of teeth and other relevant ichthyodorulites in living supra-specific taxa of chondrichthyan fishes. Part B: Batomorphii No. 2: Order Rajiformes—Suborder: Pristoidei—Family: Pristidae—Genera: Anoxypristis and Pristis. No. 3: Suborder Rajoidei—Superfamily Rhinobatoidea—Families: Rhinidae—Genera: Rhina and Rhynchobatus and Rhinobatidae—Genera: Aptychotrema, Platyrhina, Platyrhinoidis, Rhinobatos, Trygonorrhina, Zanobatus and Zapteryx. Bull Inst R Sci Nat Belg Biol 67:107–162Google Scholar
  24. Hoffmann L (1912) Zur Kenntnis des Neurocraniums der Pristiden und Pristiophoriden. Zool Jahrb 33:239–360Google Scholar
  25. Hussakof L (1912) Note on an embryo of Pristis cuspidatus. Bull Am Mus Nat Hist 31:327–330Google Scholar
  26. Irvine FR (1947) The fishes and fisheries of the Gold coast. Crown Agents for the Colonies for the Government of the Gold Coast, London, 352 ppGoogle Scholar
  27. Ishihara H, Taniuchi T, Shimizu M (1991a) Sexual dimorphism in number of rostral teeth in the sawfish, Pristis microdon, collected from Australia and Papua New Guinea. In: Shimizu M, Taniuchi T (eds) Studies on elasmobranchs collected from seven river systems in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Univ Mus Univ Tokyo, Tokyo, pp 83–89 (Nature and culture no. 3)Google Scholar
  28. Ishihara H, Taniuchi T, Mitsuhiko S, Last PR (1991b) Record of Pristis clavata Garman from the Pentecost River, Western Australia, with brief notes on its osmoregulation and comments on the systematics of Pristidae. In: Shimizu M, Taniuchi T (eds) Studies on elasmobranchs collected from seven river systems in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Univ Mus Univ Tokyo, Tokyo, pp 43–53 (Nature and culture no. 3)Google Scholar
  29. Kajiura SM (2000) Head morphology and electrosensory pore distribution of carcharhinid and sphyrnid sharks. Environ Biol Fishes 61:125–133. doi: 10.1023/A:1011028312787 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kajiura SM, Holland KN (2002) Electroreception in juvenile scalloped hammerhead and sandbar sharks. J Exp Biol 205:3609–3621PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Kirkland JI, Aguillon-Martinez MC (2002) Schizorhiza: a unique sawfish paradigm from Difunta Group, Coahuila, Mexico. Rev Mex Cienc Geologicas 19:16–24Google Scholar
  32. Kriwet J (1999) Neoselachier (Pisces, Elasmobranchii) aus der Unterkreide (unteres Barremium) von Galve und Alcaine (Spanien, Provinz Teruel). Palaeo Ichthyol 9:113–142Google Scholar
  33. Kriwet J (2004) The systematic position of the Cretaceous sclerorhynchid sawfishes (Elasmobranchii, Pristiorajea). In: Arratia G, Tintori A (eds) Mesozoic fishes 3 systematics, paleoenvironments and biodiversity. Proceedings of the international meeting Serpiano, 2001. Verlag Dr Friedrich Pfeil, München, pp 57–74Google Scholar
  34. Kriwet J (2005) Additions to the Eocene selachian fauna of Antarctica with comments on antarctic selachian diversity. J Vertebr Paleontol 25:1–7. doi: 10.1671/0272-4634(2005)025[0001:ATTESF]2.0.CO;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kriwet J, Benton MJ (2004) Neoselachian (Chondrichthyes, Elasmobranchii) diversity across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 214:181–194Google Scholar
  36. Kriwet J, Kussius K (2001) Paleobiology and paleobiogeography of sclerorhynchid sawfishes (Chondrichtyes, Batomorphii). Rev Esp Paleontol No Extraordinario: 35–46Google Scholar
  37. Lal Mohan LL (1986) Can a sawfish (Pristis sp.) kill a dugong? Sirenews No. 6 (Oct 2006)Google Scholar
  38. Last PR, Stevens JD (1994a) Sharks and rays of Australia. CSIRO Division of Fisheries, Melbourne, 600 ppGoogle Scholar
  39. Last PR, Stevens JD (1994b) Family Pristidae. Sawfishes. In: Last PR, Stevens JD (eds) Sharks and rays of Australia. CSIRO, Melbourne, pp 360–367Google Scholar
  40. Latham J (1794) An essay on the various species of sawfish. Trans Linn Soc Lond 2:273–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Maisey JG (1984) Higher elasmobranch phylogeny and biostratigraphy. Zool J Linn Soc 82:33–54. doi: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.1984.tb00534.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Maisey JG, Naylor GJP, Ward D (2004) Mesozoic elasmobranchs, neoselachian phylogeny and the rise of modern elasmobranch diversity. In: Arratia G, Tintori A (eds) Mesozoic fishes 3 systematics, paleoenvironments and biodiversity. Proceedings of the international meeting Serpiano, 2001. Verlag Dr Friedrich Pfeil, München, pp 17–56Google Scholar
  43. Martin RA (2005) Conservation of freshwater and euryhaline elasmobranchs: a review. J Mar Biol Assoc U K 85:1049–1073. doi: 10.1017/S0025315405012105 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McDavitt MT (1996) The cultural and economic significance of sawfishes (Family Pristidae). IUCS Shark Spec Group Shark News 8:10–11Google Scholar
  45. McDavitt MT, Charvet-Almeida P (2004) Quantifying trade in sawfish rostra: two examples. IUCS Shark Spec Group Shark News 16:10–11Google Scholar
  46. McEachran JD, de Cavarlho MR (2002) Batoid fishes. In: Carpenter KE (ed) The living marine resources of the western central Atlantic Vol 1. Introduction, molluscs, crustaceans, hagfishes, sharks, batoid fishes, and chimaeras. FAO, Rome, pp 1–600Google Scholar
  47. McEachran JD, Dunn KA, Miyake T (1996) Interrelationships of the batoid fishes (Chondrichthyes: Batoidea). In: Stiassney M, Parenti L, Johnson D (eds) Interrelationships of fishes. New York Academic Press, New York, pp 63–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Miller WA (1974) Observations on the developing rostrum and rostral teeth of sawfish: Pristis perotteti and P. cuspidatus. Copeia 2:311–318. doi: 10.2307/1442525 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Miller WA (1995) Rostral and dental development in sawfish (Pristis perotteti). J Aquaricult Aquat Sci 7:98–107Google Scholar
  50. Mizue K, Hara M (1991) The rectal gland of freshwater sawfish, Pristis microdon, and the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, collected from the Daly and Sepik River. In: Shimizu M, Taniuchi T (eds) Studies on elasmobranchs collected from seven river systems in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Univ Mus Univ Tokyo, Tokyo, pp 63–69 (Nature and culture no. 3)Google Scholar
  51. Nishida K (1990) Phylogeny of the suborder Mylobatoidei. Mem Fac Fish Hokkaido Univ 37:1–108Google Scholar
  52. Norman JR, Fraser FC (1938) Saw-fishes. In: Norman JR, Fraser FC (eds) Giant fishes, whales and dolphins. W.W. Norton, New York, pp 60–63Google Scholar
  53. Peverell SC (2006) Distribution of sawfishes (Pristidae) in the Queensland Gulf of Carpenteria, Australia, with notes on sawfish ecology. Environ Biol Fishes 73:391–402. doi: 10.1007/s10641-005-1599-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Peverell SC, Pillans R (2004) Determining feasibility of acoustic tag attachment and documenting short-term movements in Pristis zijsron Bleeker, 1851. Report for the National Oceans Office. National Oceans Office (18 pp)Google Scholar
  55. Rocco L, Liguori I, Costagliola D, Morescalchi MA, Tinti F, Stingo V (2007) Molecular and karyological aspects of Batoidea (Chondrichthyes, Elasmobranchi) phylogeny. Gene 389:80–86. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2006.09.024 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Schaeffer B (1963) Cretaceaous fishes from Bolovia, with comments on pristid evolution. Am Mus Novit 2159:1–20Google Scholar
  57. Scott WB, Tibbo SN (1968) Food and feeding habits of swordfish, Xiphias gladius, in the Western North Atlantic. J Fish Res Board Can 25:903–919Google Scholar
  58. Shimose T, Yokawa K, Saito H, Tachihara K (2007) Evidence for use of the bill by blue marlin, Makaira nigricans, during feeding. Ichthyol Res 54:420–422. doi: 10.1007/s10228-007-0419-x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shirai S (1996) Phylogenetic interrelationships of Neoselachians (Chondrichthyes: Euselachii). In: Stiassney M, Parenti L, Johnson D (eds) Interrelationships of fishes. New York Academic Press, New York, pp 9–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Simpfendorfer CA (2000) Predicting population recovery rates for western Atlantic sawfishes using demographic analyses. Environ Biol Fishes 58:371–377. doi: 10.1023/A:1007675111597 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Simpfendorfer CA (2006) Threatened fishes of the world: Pristis pectinata Latham, 1794 (Pristidae). Environ Biol Fishes 73:20. doi: 10.1007/s10641-004-4174-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Simpfendorfer CA, Wiley TR (2003) Nursery areas of the smalltooth sawfish in southwestern Florida: implications for conservation. American Elasmobranch Society 19th annual meeting, Manaus, BrazilGoogle Scholar
  63. Simpfendorfer CA, Poulakis GR, O’Donnell PM, Wiley TR (2008) Growth rates of juvenile smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata Latham in the western Atlantic. J Fish Biol 72:711–723. doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2007.01764.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Slaughter BH, Springer S (1968) Replacement of rostral teeth in sawfishes and sawsharks. Copeia 3:499–506. doi: 10.2307/1442018 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Suarez ME, Cappetta H (2004) Sclerorhynchid teeth (Neoselachii, Sclerorhynchidae) from the late Cretaceous of the Quiriquina formation, central Chile. Rev Geol Chile 31:89–103Google Scholar
  66. Taniuchi T (1992) Report on preliminary investigations of freshwater elasmobranchs in Mexico and Central America. Rep Jpn Soc Elasmobranch Stud 29:33–49Google Scholar
  67. Taniuchi T, Shimizu M (1991) Elasmobranchs collected from seven river systems in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. In: Shimizu M, Taniuchi T (eds) Studies on elasmobranchs collected from seven river systems in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Univ Mus Univ Tokyo, Tokyo, pp 3–10 (Nature and culture no. 3)Google Scholar
  68. Taniuchi T, Kan TT, Tanaka S, Otake T (1991a) Collection and measurement data and diagnostic characters of elasmobranchs collected from three river systems in Papua New Guinea. In: Shimizu M, Taniuchi T (eds) Studies on elasmobranchs collected from seven river systems in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Univ Mus Univ Tokyo, Tokyo, pp 27–41 (Nature and culture no. 3)Google Scholar
  69. Taniuchi T, Shimizu M, Sano M, Baba O (1991b) Descriptions of freshwater elasmobranchs collected from three rivers in Northern Australia. In: Shimizu M, Taniuchi T (eds) Studies on elasmobranchs collected from seven river systems in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Univ Mus Univ Tokyo, Tokyo, pp 11–26 (Nature and culture no. 3)Google Scholar
  70. Thorburn DC, Morgan DL (2005) Threatened fishes of the world: Pristis microdon Latham 1794 (Pristidae). Environ Biol Fishes 72:465–466. doi: 10.1007/s10641-004-6922-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Thorburn DC, Peverell SC, Stevens JD, Last PR, Rowland AJ (2003) Status of freshwater and estuarine elasmobranchs in northern Australia. Australian Department of Environment and Heritage, Canberra, 76 ppGoogle Scholar
  72. Thorburn D, Morgan D, Gill H, Johnson M, Wallace Smith H, Vigilante T, Gorring A, Croft I, Fenton J (2004) Biology and cultural significance of the freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon) in the Fitzroy river Kimberley, Western Australia, Threatened Species Network, 57 ppGoogle Scholar
  73. Thorburn DC, Morgan DL, Rowland AJ, Gill HS (2007) Freshwater sawfish Pristis microdon Latham, 1794 (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae) in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Zootaxa 1471:27–41Google Scholar
  74. Thorson TB (1973) Sexual dimorphism in number of rostral teeth of the sawfish, Pristis perotteti (Mueller & Henle, 1841). Trans Am Fish Soc 102:612–614. doi: 10.1577/1548-8659(1973)102<612:SDINOR>2.0.CO;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Thorson TB (1974) Occurence of the sawfish, Pristis perotteti, in the Amazon River with notes on P. pectinata. Copeia 2:560–564. doi: 10.2307/1442561 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Thorson TB (1976) Observations on the reproduction of the sawfish, Pristis perotteti, in Lake Nicaragua, with recommendations for its conservation. In: Thorson TB (ed) Investigations of the ichthyofauna of Nicaraguan lakes. Univeristy Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, pp 641–650Google Scholar
  77. Thorson TB (1982) Life history implications of a tagging study of the largetooth sawfish, Pristis perotteti, in the Lake Nicaragua-Rio San Juan system. Environ Biol Fishes 7:207–228. doi: 10.1007/BF00002497 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Thorson TB, Cowan CM, Watson DE (1966) Sharks and sawfish in the lake Izabal-Rio Dulce system, Guatemala. Copeia 3:620–622. doi: 10.2307/1441111 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Underwood CJ (2006) Diversification of the Neoselachii (Chondrichthyes) during the Jurassic and Cretaceous. Paleobiology 32:215–235. doi: 10.1666/04069.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. van Oijen MJP, Faria VV, McDavitt MT (2007) The curious holotype of Pristis dubius Bleeker, 1852 and the unravelling of Bleeker’s sawfish taxonomy. Raffles Bull Zool 14:37–49Google Scholar
  81. Werner C (1989) Die Elasmobranchier Fauna des Gebel Dist Member der Bahariya Formation (Obercenoman) der Oase Bahariya, Ägypten. Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, 112 ppGoogle Scholar
  82. Westheide W, Rieger R (2004) Spezielle Zoologie. Teil 2: Wirbel-oder Schädeltiere. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag Gustav Fischer, Heidelberg, 712 ppGoogle Scholar
  83. Wiley TR, Simpfendorfer CA, Faria VV, McDavitt MT (2008) Range, sexual dimorphism and bilateral asymmetry of rostral tooth counts in the smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata Latham (Chondrichthyes: Pristidae) of the southeastern United States. Zootaxa 1810:51–59Google Scholar
  84. Wilga CD, Motta PJ (1998) Feeding mechanism of the Atlantic guitarfish Rhinobatos lengtinosus: modulation of kinematic and motor activity. J Exp Biol 210:3167–3184Google Scholar
  85. Wilkens L, Hofmann M (2005) Behavior of animals with passive, low-frequency electrosensory systems. In: Bullock T, Hopkins C, Popper A, Fay R (eds) Electroreception. Springer, New York, pp 229–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wilkens LA, Wettring B, Wagner E, Wojtenek W, Russel D (2001) Prey detection in selective plankton feeding by the paddlefish: is the electric sense sufficient? J Exp Biol 204:1381–1389PubMedGoogle Scholar
  87. Winchell CJ, Martin AP, Mallatt J (2004) Phylogeny of elasmobranchs based on LSU and SSU ribosomal RNA genes. Mol Phylogen Evol 31:214–224. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2003.07.010 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wueringer BE, Tibbetts IR (2008) Comparison of the lateral line and ampullary system of two species of shovelnose ray. Rev Fish Biol Fish 18:47–64. doi: 10.1007/s11160-007-9063-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara E. Wueringer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lyle SquireJr.
    • 2
  • Shaun P. Collin
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biomedical Sciences, Sensory Neurobiology GroupThe University of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Cairns MarineStratfordAustralia

Personalised recommendations