What does a gar fish look like? The gar fish resembles a cross between fish and reptiles. A family of long-nosed, slow-moving carnivorous animals, there are several types of gar fish and they all inhabit North America’s fresh bodies of water.
All gar species, including small gar fish, make slow and languid movements in the water. However, this only hides how fast they’re able to strike their prey. In the US, numbers are quickly dwindling but the different types of gar are still unthreatened by human presence and activity.
In Australia and Europe, the name ‘gar’ is used to identify various kinds of needlefish, which can cause confusion among anglers.
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Different Types of Gar Fish
There are seven different types of gar and the majority of them can be found in Florida. There are several more, but they are extinct species that are only known from their fossil records. Three species of gar belong to the genus Atractosteus whereas the rest belong to the species Lepisosteus.
The types of gar fish are as follows:
- Alligator Gar: This is the largest gar species, and it’s commonly mistaken by anglers for an alligator. The alligator gar inhabits Mexico and the southeastern part of the United States.
- Tropical Gar: The species can be found in various territories including Costa Rica and southern Mexico and it feeds mainly on other tropical fish and cichlids.
- Cuban Gar: The freshwater fish can be spotted in lakes and rivers in western Cuba.
- Spotted Gar: It has a black-spotted and thin body, and the gar species inhabits Mississippi River System, Lake Eerie, and Lake Michigan all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
- Florida Gar: This one is exclusively found in Florida but there have been some spotted in Georgia as of late. The species has a preference for muddy bottoms in lakes and rivers.
- Longnose Gar: The longnose gar has a narrow and long snout as its name suggests. The gar fish is widely distributed in territories across the east of the United States.
- Shortnose Gar: The aptly named gar species is endemic to the Mississippi River System and the surrounding waters.
Gar Fish and Its Seemingly Odd Appearance
You now know the different types of gar fish, but what do they look like? The most interesting attribute of the gar physically is very obvious. It’s its protruding snout, feather-like tail that kind of looks like a dart and narrow body.
Although it looks odd for a fish, its appearance is actually crucial in the adaptation of the species. The snout of gar is massive and it contains several rows of needle-like teeth. The sharp teeth of gar help it eat prey and crush shells.
Another important adaptation of the gar fish is its swim bladder directly connected to its esophagus. It’s this characteristic that allows the fish to breathe air even in a body of water that has low oxygen levels.
As for gar fish size, it varies among species but the largest would be the alligator gar. It grows up to 10 ft in length and can weigh up to 350 lbs. The alligator gar is also considered one of the largest freshwater fish species. The shortnose gar, on the other hand, is the smallest of all gar species.
It grows to an average of 2 ft in length. A female shortnose tends to grow bigger in comparison to the male. Most gar species have protective, interlocking bony plates that are referred to as their ganoid scales. They are sometimes arranged in diamond shapes across their bodies.
Habitat and Population
The gar fish is largely confined to bayous, rivers, and various brackish bodies of water that have low oxygen content.
There are some species, however, that venture out and swim toward saltwater. The fish can float slowly like a log in the water, but it’s capable of going deep into the bottom to find sources of food. After feeding, it will return to the water surface to float and take in air.
Although the exact number of gar present in our bodies of water is unknown, conservation estimates prove every gar species is in great health and not at risk of extinction.
Still, there are local populations in North America that appear to be rapidly reducing in number. Alligator gar, for example, is becoming a lot rarer in various areas such as Tennessee and Missouri.
Prey and Predator
The diet of the gar fish primarily consists of frogs, insects, crustaceans, and other fish. The slow-moving animals can be very opportunistic predators as they can scoop up nearby food sources in their mouths with just a quick strike of their heads.
The various types of gar aren’t picky as to whether they want their prey dead or alive. Gar fish are considered apex predators in their natural habitat. They don’t have natural predators apart from humans.
Fishing isn’t the biggest threat to gar fish and their population because they aren’t consumed by us as food. Instead, pollution and hunting cause their populations to decline.
Lifespan and Reproduction
No matter where gar fish found themselves in, they prefer to spawn during the spring season. Female gar fish will move into shallow water and then deposit thousands of their large sticky eggs on vegetation.
The eggs of gar fish are toxic to predators, even to humans. This gives the eggs a certain level of protection.
Although not commonly pursued for their taste, various gar species can still be eaten. People describe the meat of gar to have a mild taste and firm texture. It’s quite different from other fish species.
The flesh isn’t harmful to consume; however, you should be very wary as gar species can accumulate toxins in their bodies from swimming in polluted bodies of water.
There are some areas that limit or totally ban the consumption of gar. By contrast, gar eggs are certainly toxic, guaranteed to cause sickness in humans and animals alike.