Gar

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This article is about North American freshwater fish of the family Lepisosteidae. For other uses, see Gar (disambiguation).
Gar
Temporal range: Late Cretaceous–Recent
[1]
Lepisosteus oculatus.jpg
Lepisosteus oculatus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Lepisosteiformes
O. P. Hay, 1929
Family: Lepisosteidae
Cuvier, 1825
Genera

Atractosteus
Lepisosteus
Masillosteus

In American English, the name gar (or garpike) is strictly applied to members of the Lepisosteidae, a family including seven living species of fish in two genera that inhabit fresh, brackish, and occasionally marine, waters of eastern North America, Central America, and the Caribbean islands.[2][3]

Etymology[edit]

In British English, the name gar was originally used for a species of needlefish, Belone belone, found in the North Atlantic and likely taking its name from the Old English word for "spear".[4] Belone belone is now more commonly referred to as the "garfish" or "gar fish" to avoid confusion with the North American gars of the family Lepisosteidae.[5] Confusingly, the name "garfish" is commonly used for a number of other species of the related genera Strongylura, Tylosurus and Xenentodon of the family Belonidae, as well as of some more distantly related genera in the suborder Belonoidei.[6]

The genus name Lepisosteus comes from the Greek lepis meaning "scale" and osteon meaning "bone".[7] Atractosteus is similarly derived from Greek, in this case from atraktos, meaning arrow.[8]

Distribution[edit]

The gars are members of the Lepisosteiformes (or Semionotiformes), an ancient order of ray-finned fish; fossils from this order are known from the late Cretaceous onwards. Fossil gars are found in Europe, India, South America, and North America, indicating that in times past, these fish had a wider distribution than they do today. Gars are considered to be a remnant of a group of bony fish that flourished in the Mesozoic, and are most closely related to the bowfin. The many species of gar include the alligator gar, which can exceed ten feet in length.

Anatomy and morphology[edit]

Large gar at the Shedd Aquarium

Gar bodies are elongated, heavily armored with ganoid scales, and fronted by similarly elongated jaws filled with long, sharp teeth. Their tails are heterocercal, and the dorsal fins are close to the tail.[9] As their vascularised swim bladders can function as lungs,[1] most gars surface periodically to take a gulp of air, doing so more frequently in stagnant or warm water when the concentration of oxygen in the water is low. They also appear to surface in fast-moving rapids. As a result, they are extremely hardy and able to tolerate conditions that would kill most other fish.

All the gars are relatively large fish, but the alligator gar Atractosteus spatula is the largest, as specimens have been recorded up to 3 m (9.8 ft) in length.[10] Even the smaller species, such as Lepisosteus oculatus, are large, commonly reaching lengths of over 60 cm (2.0 ft), and sometimes much more.[11]

Ecology[edit]

Gars tend to be slow-moving fish except when striking at their prey. They prefer the shallow and weedy areas of rivers, lakes, and bayous, often congregating in small groups.[2] They are voracious predators, catching their prey with their needle-like teeth, obtained with a sideways strike of the head.[11] They feed extensively on smaller fish and invertebrates such as crabs.[10] Gars are found across all of North America (for example Lepisosteus osseus).[2] Although gars are primarily found in freshwater habitats, several species enter brackish waters and a few, most notably Atractosteus tristoechus, are sometimes found in the sea. Some gars travel from lakes and rivers through sewers to get to ponds.[2][12]

Species[edit]

Atractosteus fossil
Atractosteus africanus fossils

The gar family contains seven extant species, in two genera:[1]

Family Lepisoteidae

Significance to humans[edit]

Lepisosteus platyrhincus
Xenentodon cancila is an example of a 'false' gar

Gar flesh is edible, and sometimes available in markets, but unlike the sturgeon they resemble, their eggs are highly toxic to humans.[13] Several species are traded as aquarium fish.[11]

The hard skin and scales of the gar were used by humans. Native Americans used the scales of the gar as arrowheads, native Caribbeans used the skin for breastplates, and early American pioneers covered the blades of their plows in gar skin.[14] Not much is known about the precise function of the gar in Native American religion and culture, but besides using the gar, Creek and Chickasaw people have ritual "garfish dances".[15]

A gar jumps from the water to eat a horsefly.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2009). "Lepisosteidae" in FishBase. January 2009 version.
  2. ^ a b c d "Family Lepisosteidae - Gars". Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  3. ^ Sterba, G: Freshwater Fishes of the World, p. 609, Vista Books, 1962
  4. ^ "Gar". Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  5. ^ "Common Names of Belone belone". Archived from the original on 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  6. ^ www.fishbase.org
  7. ^ "Genera reference detail". Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  8. ^ Atractosteus "Genera reference detail". Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  9. ^ Wiley, Edward G. (1998). Paxton, J.R. & Eschmeyer, W.N., ed. Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0-12-547665-5. 
  10. ^ a b "Atractosteus spatula - Alligator gar". Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  11. ^ a b c Kodera H. et al.: Jurassic Fishes. TFH, 1994, ISBN 0-7938-0086-2
  12. ^ Monks N. (editor): Brackish Water Fishes, pp 322–324. TFH 2006, ISBN 0-7938-0564-3
  13. ^ "Gar". Environment.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  14. ^ Burton, Maurice; Robert Burton (2002). The international wildlife encyclopedia, Volume 9. Marshall Cavendish. p. 929. ISBN 978-0-7614-7266-7. Retrieved 18 July 2010. 
  15. ^ Spitzer, Mark (2010). Season of the Gar: Adventures in Pursuit of America's Most Misunderstood Fish. U of Arkansas P. pp. 118–19. ISBN 978-1-55728-929-2. 

External links[edit]