Barracudas, sharks, jellyfish... these are the usual suspects when one is talking about dangerous and predatory underwater species. But amongst the various types of freshwater fish, few names come to mind. One such denizen of the deep in freshwater bodies is the Alligator Gar. This fish is no relative to the alligator but in fact, is a positive Goliath amongst freshwater fish. It is considered an ancient or primitive member of aquatic species, as its existence dates back to prehistoric times. Learn more about this fish species by going through the following interesting facts about Alligator Gars.
|Scientific Name||Atractosteus spatula|
|Other Names||Gator, greater gar, garpike and garfish|
|Length||Between 8 - 10 feet long|
|Weight||Between 240 - 300 pounds|
|Lifespan||Males 26 years, females 50 years|
♦ The Alligator Gar which belongs to the Gar family of fish or Lepisosteidae, is the largest freshwater fish in North America.
♦ Gar members are very old and ancient fish, which are large in size, very tough and hardy and have long, narrow jaws with a lot of teeth. The largest of all Gar species is the Alligator Gar.
♦ Broad and long snout with large, pointy teeth in both upper and lower jaws. This sort of snout formation is similar to that of an alligator. This Gar is named for its alligator-like body.
♦ Teeth are long but thin and fang-like. An Alligator Gar will snap out and grasp its prey sideways, holding on and piercing the prey deep.
♦ Ray-finned skin and ganoid scales (thick diamond shaped, interlocked scales). The scaly covering of the Alligator Gar is very tough and rough, which makes it a very formidable opponent. Few objects can penetrate such skin. It is said, that if struck with a metal tool like an ax or knife, the skin will emit sparks.
♦ Elongated, torpedo or missile shaped body. The dorsal and anal fins are located at the extreme end of the body, near the tail. Tail is asymmetrical. The Alligator Gar is a slow but sure design of marine predators.
♦ The Alligator Gar is a dark brown or olive or mud green dorsally (upper body side). Its ventral profile (underside) is more of a yellowish, whitish green. The fins have oval black spots or dots. Young or teenage Alligator Gars have light stripes on their dorsal side, with some spots and stripes on their body.
♦ Gator Gars are a classic example of "survival of the fittest". This species has a swim bladder, which allows them to breathe in low oxygen conditions and even survive out of water for 2 hours.
♦ The Alligator Gar's habitat consists of slow-moving ponds, lakes and large rivers, bayous and bays. They are very tolerant of high salinity levels and can be found in brackish or saltwater water bodies. They need a shallow water area during the birthing process.
♦ Such Gars can be found in water bodies in the southeastern U.S. states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and other Gulf Coast states, including Mexico. Notable sightings include the waters of Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia but such appearances are rare and regarded as freak incidents.
♦ Alligator Gars are record setters in terms of size. A Mississippi native caught an 8.5 feet (2.57 m) long Alligator Gar, which weighed a whopping 150 kg or 330 lbs, using a net. The largest Alligator Gar caught ever weighed 350 lbs or 160 kg!
Alligator Gar Facts
► Alligator Gars are very slow in growth. Males are ready to breed at 6 years of age and females at 11 years. Not much is known about their breeding and reproductive cycles. The female must release the eggs for them to be fertilized by the male and then the eggs sink and stick to the bottom of a water body. Eggs are bright red in color and are unsafe for human consumption. Eggs must hatch in river floodplains, so that the young are protected from predators.
► The silent and deadly analogy seems apt for these aquatic predators. Their mode of attack is lie still and wait, then rush up or ambush their prey, catching them in a sideways grip by lashing their huge heads from side to side. Alligator Gars have been observed, lying dead still on the surface of the water, looking like pieces of driftwood, waiting patiently for a tasty unaware morsel to swim by.
► Though their primary prey is fish, they can eat waterfowl and small birds, turtles, small mammals and even scavenge on dead marine animals. Species like blue crabs are favorites of the backwater type of Alligator Gars. Few predators are willing to take on such a big, tough and mean foe. Young ones are relatively easy targets but once they reach maturity, the only enemy for the Alligator Gar is an American alligator.
Perhaps the deadliest enemy of the Alligator Gar is man. In spite of their fearsome size and behavior, there have been no documented attacks of an Alligator Gar on men. But man's industrial activities, like building dams and dredging have nearly destroyed the natural habitat of these freshwater dwellers. Plus Alligator Gar fishing is a very competitive and popular sport and its flesh is considered a delicacy, so the species population is severely depleted. Alligator Gars can be kept as pets in an aquarium but their large size and eating habits make them difficult to look after. In summation, this aquatic species is a rare and magnificent specimen of nature and should be treated with respect.