Alligator gar, Atractosteus spatula, is a freshwater fish. It is also called with other names: gator, greater gar, garfish, garpike, and Mississippi alligator gar. It is the largest freshwater fish in North America and it is also known as the largest species of all other garfishes. This article discusses the characteristics, geographic distribution, habitat, diet, predators, reproduction, behavior, uses, and ecological importance of alligator gars.
Species: A. spatula
World’s Largest Alligator Gar
At maturity, alligator gars are 8 to 10 feet in length and at least 200 lb in weight. The largest recorded alligator gar weighs 365 lbs (166 kg) caught by bow fishing in Saint Francis River, Arkansas during the 1930s. Moreover, the largest alligator gar caught by rod and reel was a 279 lb (127 kg) giant in Rio Grande, Texas on 1951.
Characteristics of Alligator Gar
Mature alligator gas has a dual row of large fang-like teeth in its upper jaw. The fish got its name from the alligator-like appearance of its teeth and its elongated snout. Some people are frightened by alligator gar because its snout looks like that of a real alligator.
The gar’s dorsal surface is brown or olive-color while the ventral surface is yellowish. Its scales are interlocking and diamond-shaped. Native Americans use the scales as jewelry.
Aliigator gar, like all garfishes, has an elongated, torpedo-shaped body.
Geographic Distribution of Alligator Gar
Fossil remains of garfishes have been found in North America, Central America, Asia, and Europe. However, the living members of the gar family are restricted to 7 species living in Central and North America. In the United States, alligator gars are found in Gulf Coast states of Southeastern United States. These states include Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, and Florida. Alligator gars have also been caught in farther US states like Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois.
Although North and Central North America are the natural home of alligator gar, the fish has been found and caught in various countries of the world including Indonesia, Hong Kong, Turkmenistan, and Malaysia.
Habitats of Alligator Gar
Alligator gar exclusively lives in freshwater but can adapt in brackish or salt water. It lives in sluggish pools, backwaters, large rivers, lakes, and bayous.
Diet of Alligator Gar
Alligator gar is a carnivorous fish. It uses its sharp, fang-like teeth to tear its prey. It is a voracious ambush predator that feed on smaller fishes. Besides from fish, alligator gar also preys on water birds, small mammals, turtles, and carrion.
When living in brackish water, alligator gar feeds on blue crabs and catfishes.
Predators of Alligator Gars
Alligator gars have few natural predators because of their gigantic size. Fishes are the major predators of small and young alligator gars. But when alligator gars reach adult stage, their major predators are American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis).
Reproduction of Alligator Gars
Alligator gar spawning occurs in late spring probably in the months of April, May, and June. Spawning usually occur in floodplains to protect eggs and young gars from predators that are usually found in deeper areas.
Alligator gars congregate in large numbers with a female and one or more males present to fertilize eggs. The average number of eggs that females carry is 138,000. Fertilization occurs outside the fishes’ bodies. Females just released their eggs to the water and allow males to fertilize them. After being released and fertilized, eggs will sink into the bottom and stick to the substrate. The eggs’ outer adhesive covering allows them to adhere in the substrate strongly. The bright red eggs are poisonous when eaten.
Uses and Importance of Alligator Gars
US states like Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi allow regulated sport fishing of alligator gars. Fishers love to fish alligator gars because of their amazing size and their tendency to brawl.
Alligator gar meat is also consumed by some people.
Alligator gars are important in maintaining ecological balance. As a major predator, alligator gars regulate the population of other fishes and animals. It is therefore important to protect them from overfishing.
Alligator Gar Conservation
Alligator gar is already rare and endangered in most American states which they are found. To prevent extinction, laws prohibiting overfishing of alligator gars should be strictly enforced.
Danger of Alligator Gars to Human
The sharp, large, and fang-like teeth of alligator gars are capable of inflicting serious bites to fishermen and swimmers. Although scary, there is no documentation of alligator gar attacks to human so far.[ad#afterpost]