Alligator gar

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Alligator gar
captive Alligator Gar
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lepisosteiformes
Family: Lepisosteidae
Genus: Atractosteus
Species: A. spatula
Binomial name
Atractosteus spatula
(Lacépède, 1803)

Lepisosteus spatula Lacépède, 1803
Atractosteus adamantinus Rafinesque, 1818

The alligator gar, Atractosteus spatula, is a primitive ray-finned fish. They are related to bowfin in the superorder Holestei (ho'-las-te-i). Unlike other gars, the mature alligator gar possesses a dual row of large teeth in the upper jaw. Its name derives from the alligator-like appearance of these teeth along with the fish's elongated snout. The dorsal surface of the alligator gar is a brown or olive color, while the ventral surface tends to be lighter. Their scales are diamond-shaped and interlocking (ganoid) and are sometimes used by Native Americans for jewelry and arrow heads.

Along with its status as the largest species of gar, the alligator gar is the largest exclusively freshwater fish found in North America, measuring 8 to 10 ft (2.4 to 3.0 m) and weighing at least 200 lb (91 kg) at maturity. The largest alligator gar caught by net was caught by Kenny Williams, from Vicksburg, Mississippi, in February 2011,[1] and measured 8 ft 5 in (2.57 m) long, 327 lb (148 kg) in weight, and nearly 48 in (120 cm) around. The fish is believed to have been between 50 and 70 years old, wildlife officials said. Williams has donated the fish to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson where it will be on permanent display in the future. The current world record for the largest alligator gar caught on rod and reel is 279 lb (127 kg).[Note 1][2] The largest taken by bowfishing is 365 lb (166 kg).[Note 2][3] The fish is also known for its ability to survive outside the water, being able to last for up to two hours above the surface.



Alligator gar are found in the lower Mississippi River Valley and Gulf Coast states of the Southern United States and Mexico as far south as Veracruz, encompassing the following US states: Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, and Georgia.[4] They have also been known historically to come as far north as central Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Iowa, and west-central Illinois, where the most northerly verified catch was at Meredosia, Illinois, in 1922 and an 8.5 ft (2.6 m) specimen, now preserved, was caught at nearby Beardstown.[5] Specimens at locations further south in Illinois have been verified as recently as 1976, with the Illinois Academy of Sciences verifying a total of 122 captures to that date.[5] They inhabit sluggish pools and backwaters or large rivers, bayous, and lakes. They are found in fresh, brackish and saltwater, and are more adaptable to the latter than other gars. In Louisiana it is common to see these large gar striking the surface in brackish marshes.

Outside natural range[edit]

A few notable sightings of alligator gar have been reported outside North America.

In November 2008, a 0.5- to 0.6-m-long alligator gar was caught in the north of Esenguly, Turkmenistan by two officials of Turkmenistan Fishery Protection. Dr. R. Mayden, Saint Louis University and Dr. Eric Hilton, Virginia Institute of Marine Science confirmed it was Atractosteus spatula.[6]

On September 4, 2009 a meter-long long alligator gar was found in Tak Wah Park in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong. In the next two days, at least 16 other alligator gar, with the largest one measuring 1.5 m (4.9 ft) long, were found in ponds in public parks in Hong Kong.[7] As reported by nearby residents, the fish were released in the ponds by aquarium hobbyists and had lived there for some years. However, after a complaint made by a citizen who falsely identified the fish as crocodiles, terms like "Horrible Man-eating Fish" were found in the headlines of some major local newspapers. Government officials decided to remove all the fish from the ponds, as they claimed the species had no conservation value and would affect the local ecology if left in the ponds. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it would offer non-dangerous fish to animal welfare groups and charities. The fish caught first died later that day, and claims have been made that the local government does not treat the gars in an animal-friendly way - they were seen catching the fish with improvised nets and garbage cans.[8] On September 6, the government euthanized all of the fish, as it said that there were no organizations willing to take them.[9]

On January 21, 2011, a 1.5-m alligator gar was caught at a canal in Pasir Ris, Singapore, by two recreational fishermen. The fish was taken to a nearby pond where the owner confirmed it as an alligator gar, not an arapaima as the men initially thought.[10]

Alligator gar have also recently become "trophy" fish for private aquariums, particularly in Japan. In June 2011, a group of men from Florida and Louisiana were indicted on charges of illegally removing wild gar from the Trinity River in Texas and attempting to ship the fish to Japan at the behest of private collectors. The largest of the fish allegedly could have fetched $40,000 in the Japanese black market.[11]


A 10-ft alligator gar caught at Moon Lake, Mississippi in 1910[citation needed]


The alligator gar is a relatively passive, solitary fish that lives in fresh and brackish water bodies in the Southern United States. It is carnivorous and feeds by lurking among reeds and other vegetation, ambushing prey.[12] Alligator gar have often been suspected in attacks on humans,[13][unreliable source?] but none of these attacks has been officially confirmed to be the work of this species.


Though the alligator gar prefers slow-moving waters of rivers, bayous, and oxbows throughout most of the year, it appears to need springtime inundated floodplain fields or wetland vegetation to spawn.[12] Egg production is variable, and believed to be dependent on the size of the female. A common formula is 4.1 eggs per gram of body weight, or an average of 150,000 eggs per spawn. Alligator gar eggs are bright red, and highly toxic if eaten.[14]

Taxonomic history[edit]

Until relatively recently, all gars have generally been classified in the genus Lepisosteus Lacépède, 1803. The alligator gar had been given the name Atractosteus adamantinus by the eccentric Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz in 1818, and for a long time. Atractosteus was simply viewed as a junior synonym of Lepisosteus. E. O. Wiley resurrected this genus in 1976, in his work The phylogeny and biogeography of fossil and Recent Gars.

Based on Wiley's work, after 1976. the gars were officially split into Lepisosteus and Atractosteus, and ever since then zoos, aquarium books, anglers, and so on have been gradually catching up with the proper terminology.

Human usage[edit]

Sport fish[edit]

This six-foot. 129-pound alligator gar was caught in the Brazos River in Texas.

Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana allow regulated sport fishing of the alligator gar.

The fish is popular among bowfishers because of its size and tendency to fight. An interesting anatomical feature of this fish is its buoyancy bladder is directly connected to its throat, giving it the ability to draw in air from above the water. For this reason, alligator gar are often found near the surface of a body of water.

Food source[edit]

In several Southern US states, alligator gar are served in restaurants and considered a delicacy or novelty food akin to the American alligator or crocodile.[citation needed]


Despite their large adult size, alligator gar are kept as aquarium fish, although many fish labelled as "alligator gar" in the aquarium trade are actually smaller species. This fish requires a very large aquarium or pond and ample resources to keep. They are also popular fish for public aquariums. True gars are illegal as pets in multiple areas but will occasionally show up in fish stores.


  1. ^ Caught by Bill Valverde, January 1, 1951, Rio Grande, Texas.
  2. ^ Caught by Kirk Kirkland, 1991, in Texas.


  1. ^ "Vicksburg Man Catches 327 Lb. Alligator Gar". WAPT News. February 18, 2011. 
  2. ^ "State Freshwater Records: Rod and Reel". Texas Parks & Wildlife. Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Alligator Gar". Texas Fishing Guides. Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Alligator Gar Technical Committee". Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society. Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Poly, William J. (2001). "Distribution of the Alligator Gar, Atractosteus spatula (Lacépède, 1803), in Illinois". Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 94 (3): 185–190. 
  6. ^ "Hazar Deňziniň Türkmen Kenarynda Amerikan Sowutly Çortanyň Tutulmagynyň Ilkinji Wakasy" (in Turkish). Türkmenistanyò Tebigaty goramak ministrligi. Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Monster exotic fish found in Hong Kong ponds". AFP. September 5, 2009.
  8. ^ Nip, Amy (September 6, 2009). "Dumped fish prove to be slippery customers during pond clearance". South China Morning Post.
  9. ^ "LCSD and AFCD respond to alligator gar incident". Government of Hong Kong. September 6, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Friends catch 1.5m 'monster' fish from Pasir Ris canal after long struggle". The Straits Times. January 21, 2011. 
  11. ^ Horswell, Cindy (June 17, 2011). "Indictments accuse 3 of taking alligator gar fish out of Trinity". Houston Chronicle. 
  12. ^ a b "Alligator Gar Life History and Descriptions". Alligator Gar Ad Hoc Technical Committee. Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  13. ^ Alligator Gar. "Alligator Gar Information". Retrieved May 17, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Alligator Gar". Earthwave Society. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 

External links[edit]