Gars are part of the Lepisosteidae family, with seven known species. Native to North and Central America, as well as the West Indies, they typically live in warm, freshwater streams and rivers. Gars are easily distinguishable by their elongated jaws and alligator-like heads. These are no ordinary fish, as their species predates back to the Jurassic era.
1. Gars belong to an ancient family of fish that have been around for over 100 million years.
Gars of today are the surviving species from the ancient Lepisosteiformes family of ray-finned fish. Their ancestors date back to the late Jurassic era, about 157 million years ago, when dinosaurs were still roaming the earth. To date, only seven species of the gars survive.
The oldest known gar fish was discovered in Mexico and they look very similar to modern gars.
Called Nhanulepisosteus mexicanus, the oldest member of the Lepisosteidae family was discovered in Mexico. Its fossils were found near the town of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca in southern Mexico. The discovery of these fossils proved that even in the late Jurassic era, Lepisosteids already had the distinctive anatomy and skull that’s still seen in today’s gars.
2. Gar fish have scales that are made of almost impenetrable material.
Gars don’t have the typical scales found on most fish. Instead of the usual overlapping fish scales, they have ganoid scales. These hard and bony interlocking scales work much like protective armor. Ganoid scales are made of different layers - a bony, basal layer, a layer of dentin and an outer layer of inorganic bone salt called ganoine. Its unique layering and interlocking system make it extremely tough.
3. Gar fish have a unique swim bladder that allows them to breathe out of water.
Gar fish are equipped with a highly vascularized swim bladder that allows them to breathe even when they are out of the water. Their swim bladder has a rough surface that has tiny blood vessels. It sort of mimics the alveolar air sacs found in the lungs of mammals. Because of this, they can actually breathe even when out of the water for hours.
When oxygen level in the water is low, gar fish can still survive.
Because of their special ability to breathe air, they can survive by occasionally gulping air. Most fish will die when oxygen levels in the water drops but gars can outlive and adapt because they don’t rely on their gills alone. This makes them one of the most durable species of fish.
4. The eggs of gars are highly toxic to humans.
While you can eat gar fish meat, their eggs are poisonous. This is because the eggs contain ichthyotoxin, a type of protein toxin that is highly toxic to humans and small mammals. When gar eggs are eaten by humans, this can lead to headache, vomiting, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure and nausea.
The female gar can lay 30,000 eggs in a year.
The female longnose gar can lay up to 30,000 eggs in just one year. The most eggs ever recorded from a longnose gar is 77,000 in a year. Gars do not care for their eggs, like other fish. When the eggs have been laid, the parents leave the nursery and don’t provide any parental care to their newborns.
5. The alligator gar is the biggest of its species, it can grow up to 10 feet.
Of the seven species of gars, the biggest one is the alligator gar. This species can grow up to 10 feet and weigh up to around 300 pounds. It is considered to be one of the largest freshwater fishes. With their elongated mouths and sharp, cone-shaped teeth, alligator gars are often mistaken for alligators when they are submerged in water.
Alligator gars do not attack humans but they can bite.
They may look ferocious but alligator gars don’t attack or eat humans. There has never been a documented report of a gar attacking a human. They pose no threat, even to fishermen. However, because of the sheer size of their teeth, they can deliver very bad bites when they are mishandled.
6. The longnose gar has a needle-like snout that’s almost three times longer than its head.
The longnose gar is another popular gar species that boasts an interesting anatomy. It is easily distinguishable because of it’s long, needle-like snout. This species can grow up to 6 feet in length and weigh as much as 50 pounds. Its most striking feature is its pointed snout, which is almost three times longer than its head.
7. Gar fish used to be called “trash fish” by some fishermen.
Gars were not very popular among fishermen in the past decades. In fact, they used to be called “trash fish”. This term is used by fishing enthusiasts and anglers to describe fish that are not gamefish species and are inedible. However, more understanding of the species has led to its rehabilitated image. They are now protected by state laws and federal resource agencies.
The all-tackle world record of largest gar captured is 279 pounds.
The world record for largest gar fish ever tackled officially is a 279-pound alligator gar. This fish was captured in Rio Grande, Texas by angler Bill Valverde in 1951. There was an even bigger alligator gar that was accidentally caught in fisherman Kenny Williams’ net in 2011. The monstrous alligator gar fish, captured in Lake Chotard in Mississippi, measured over 8 feet and weighed 327 pounds.
8. Some species of gar fish can live up to 90 years.
Gars are very resilient fish and can live for a very long time. Although the average lifespan of common gar fish is 10 - 20 years, some species can live up to 90 years. There have been huge alligator gar fish captured that are believed to be around 70 - 90 years old. Even smaller species can live 20 years or more.
9. Gars are ambush predators that eat fish, crustaceans and even small mammals.
While gars may seem like sluggish fish, they are actually voracious ambush predators. They stalk their prey at night, floating below the surface of the water and wait for prey to swim within reach. Their diet mainly consists of fish, crabs, frogs and insects. But, they are opportunistic feeders and also sometimes feed on small mammals, turtles and waterfowl.
As apex predators, they help balance the ecosystem.
Like other apex predators, gar fish maintain the balance of the ecosystem. They promote ecological stability by keeping the numbers of smaller predators under control in their natural habitat. Without apex predators, small predators will thrive and overhunt, leading to the possible extinction of preys.
How endangered is this animal?
- Modification of rivers has negatively affected gar populations.
Human activities have posed a threat to gar populations. Because of the modification of rivers, water flow levels have changed. This has affected the spawning of gars. Gars require high river flows or overbank flows to lay their eggs properly. In some areas, gars are already considered endangered.
- Gars were intentionally culled because they were considered “trash fish”.
In addition to that, gars have also been suffering from overfishing. Because they are viewed as a threat to more popular sportfish species. There was a time when gars were culled by fishermen. Because of overfishing and indiscriminate killing, gar population has dwindled. Louisiana and Texas are the two only states that have maintained a stable gar population.
To protect gars, it is essential that we also take care of their natural habitats. Additionally, regulating fishing of gars is a must to keep their populations stable. Gars are crucial to maintain a healthy ecosystem. While they are resilient, humans still need to be more responsible and respectful. After all, these prehistoric fish have been around way longer than we have.
Also Known As
3 ft.(90cm) to 9 ft.(275cm)
Central-America and North-America
Rivers, bayous, lakes, and estuaries
Crustaceans, insects, frogs, and fish
10 - 20 years