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Alligator Gar

Lepisosteus spatula

"gator, greater gar, garpike, garfish, and Mississippi alligator gar"


Description: With a head that resembles an alligator they are easy to identify. All gars have an elongated, torpedo-shaped body. The caudal fin of the alligator gar is abbreviate-heterocerical, meaning the tail is not symmetrical. The dorsal and anal fins are located very far back on the body. Gars bodies are covered by ganoid scales, which are thick overlapping scales that create a protective covering similar to medieval chainmail. Gars have retained the spiral valve intestine a primitive feature of the digestive system commonly associated with sharks. Gars also have a highly vascularized swim bladder connected to the pharynx by a pneumatic duct. This enables them to gulp air, which aids in facultative air breathing. This allows gar to breathe when there are very low oxygen levels in the water. The alligator gar is distinguished from other gars in the United States by its relatively short, broad snout which has two rows of fang-like teeth in the upper jaw. The inner row of teeth in the upper jaw is palatine and larger than the outer row of teeth. Coloration: The alligator gar is dark olive-green dorsally, fading to yellowish white ventrally. Young alligator gars possess a light mid-dorsal stripe bordered by thin dark lines from the tip of snout to the dorsal fin, and a dark lateral band extends along the sides with irregular borders. The dorsal, anal, and caudal fins of the Alligator gar often have oval-shaped black spots. Adult specimens lack spots on the body. Alligator gars have two rows of teeth. The inner row of teeth is palatine and is longer than the outer row of teeth. The teeth of the alligator gar are long, slander, and fang like, enabling these fish to pierce and hold their prey.

Similar Fish: Gar, Garfish

Where Found: The alligator gar inhabits large, slow moving rivers, reservoirs, oxbow lakes, bayous and bays, in fresh and brackish water. The alligator gar is the most tolerant gar species of high salinity and occasionally strays into salt water. Young may be seen at the surface in debris such as leaves and twigs. Alligator gar prefer large rivers that have a large overflow floodplain, but these rivers have all but disappeared in North America due to the use of dredging, dams, dikes, and levees.

Size: They are one of the monsters of fresh waters. Gars are slow growing fish, with female alligator gars reaching sexual maturity around age 11 and living to age 50. Male alligator gars mature around age 6 and live at least 26 years. Alligator gars commonly grow to a size of 6 1/2ft (2 m) and over 100 lbs. (45kg). But have been reported to grow up to 350 lbs. and around 10 ft (3m) in length.

State Record: The largest recorded alligator gar comes from the St. Francis River, Arkansas in the 1930's, and weighed 350 lbs (159 kg).

World Record: Type Here

Bait used: They can be taken with minnows and artificial lures or during daylight by spearing (although not by spear gun) and snagging them with treble hooks.

Tactics to catch: Because of their huge size and great strength, alligator gars are popular with anglers. They are not a fish that is caught easily because its sharp teeth will cut most lines in an instant. They are popular with bow-fishermen and anglers using frayed nylon cord as a lure snag, which entangles the gars teeth. Many fishermen will catch this magnificent fish on a rod and line. After the fight, the true sporting fisherman will return the gar unharmed back into the water (after taking pictures of course).

Climate (water temperature range): Warmer Climates

Spawning habits: Little is known of the life history of alligator gar. The gonadosomatic index for mature males and females, and female reproductive hormone analysis have indicated that spawning occurs in late spring, young specimens collected have indicated that spawning probably occurs in April, May, and June in the southern United States. Alligator gars are thought to spawn in the spring by congregating in large numbers with a female and one or more males on either side to fertilize the eggs. Fecundity in females has a positive correlation with total length. Females generally carry an average of 138,000 eggs. The eggs are released and fertilized by the male outside of the body they sink to the bottom after being released and stick to the substrate due to an adhesive outer covering. The eggs are bright red and poisonous if eaten. Alligator gars are thought to spawn in the floodplain of these large rivers, giving their young protection from predators.

Food Value: The meat of the alligator gar has been commercially sold for over a dollar a pound locally. It is not classified as a sport fish in some states such as Texas even though there is a popular bow fishery along the Rio Grande River. It is classified as a sport fish Alabama where the limit is 2 fish per day, which makes it off limits to commercial fishing in Alabama.

Consumption Concerns: The roe or red eggs of a gar is poisonous to man, birds and other fish.

Feeding habits: Alligator gars appear sluggish, however they are voracious predators. Gars are ambush predators, primarily piscivores, they lay still in the water until an unsuspecting fish swims by, and then lunging forward and lashing the head from side to side in order to capture prey. Many times gars will lay still at the top of the water for long periods of time, appearing to be merely a log. The alligator gars' diet consists primarily of fish. However, brackish water populations of alligator gar are known to feed heavily on blue crabs in addition to fish such as the hardhead catfish. This gar is also known to prey on waterfowl and other birds, small mammals, turtles, and carrion. Alligator gars have been reported to attack duck decoys and eat injured waterfowl shot by hunters.

Remarks: The alligator gar is disappearing from many parts of the range, and declining in population everywhere due to over-fishing and the construction of dikes, dams, and other flood control devices, resulting in loss of key breeding habitat. The alligator gar was once reported as common and even numerous in much of its northern range. Now it is rare in the Northern parts of its range with reports of valid sightings coming in only every few years. The alligator gar is rare, endangered, and has even been extirpated from many of the outer areas of its range. Studies in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana have shown that the alligator gar is very susceptible to over fishing. It has been classified as rare in Missouri, threatened in Illinois, and endangered in Arkansas, Kentucky, and is soon to be in Tennessee.


Champion Pro-Guide Services

Florida Museum of Natural

Land Big Fish

Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Citizen Sportsman

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