Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula)
Alligator gars are ray-finned euryhaline fish. Fossil records trace their existence back over a hundred million years ago! They are the largest fish in the gar family, and among the largest freshwater fish in all of North America. They are considered “primitive fish” or “living fossils,” and can breathe both above and below water. Their common name was derived from the American alligator, particularly due to their broad snout and long sharp teeth.
Alligator Gar Habitat
Throughout time, these gar fish have been pushed out of their historic ranges by culling, harvesting and habitat destruction. Populations are now concentrated in southern portions of the United States and Mexico. They are considered euryhaline fish because they can adapt to a variety of water salinities ranging from freshwater to brackish and estuaries. They have been long considered a “nuisance species” that had a negative impact on sport fisheries, therefore targeted for elimination. The last ten years has seen a greater emphasis on the gar’s importance to their habitats, affording them protection through restricted licensing.
Size & Appearance
While certain reports suggest they can grow up to 10 feet and weigh as much as 300 pounds, the largest alligator gar ever caught and weighed measured 8.5 feet in length and weighed in at 327 pounds. Their bodies are usually brown or olive fading to a lighter grey or yellow, and are torpedo shaped. Rather than having scales, alligator gars have armored bodies to protect against predation. Unlike other garfish, alligator gars have doubled rows of large sharp teeth in their upper jaw for impaling and holding prey.
Alligator gars are stalking, ambush predators that are primarily piscivores. They also ambush and eat waterfowl and small mammals that may be floating on the water’s surface. Their hunting patterns categorize them as opportunistic, and sometimes even scavenging, eaters.
Alligator Gar Fun Facts
- Most females do not reach sexual maturity until after ten years of life while males do so in less than half that time.
- Native Americans used their scales for arrowheads, breastplates, and as shielding to cover plows. Early settlers used their skin to make various items including purses. People in Arkansas used their oil as buffalo gnat repellant.
- Fossil records trace the alligator gar’s existence back to the Early Cretaceous period – that’s over a hundred million years ago!