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Photos by Rob O'Reilly (Dave Wallace in
Gars are called “living fossils” because
nearly all their relatives are extinct. They were abundant in
Europe during the Tertiary or the first period of the Cenozoic
but, before the close of that period, which embraced
approximately 58 million years measured by radio-activity, they
became extinct in Europe, and the family is now exclusively
North American in its distribution. .)
Gars are distinguished by their slender
cylindrical bodies, their thin, long jaws which are produced
forward into a beak, and by the more or less diamond-shaped
scales that cover the body. The jaws are armed with sharp teeth.
Longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus) is the
accepted common name of the fish but billfish and gar pike are
also used. It has a very elongated and subcylindrical body,
covered with obliquely and regularly arranged diamond-shaped,
hard plates or scales, covered with an enamel-like substance,
The body length attained may be five feet, but the average is
much less. Three-foot specimens are not uncommon. The jaws are
elongated into a beak which is twice the length of the head and
provided with several rows of teeth which are exceptionally
strong, sharp and conical.
extremely variable, the colour is more commonly greenish above,
silvery on the sides and whitish below. The body and fins have
large black spots or blotches, and young individuals have a
blackish lateral band. The skeleton of the fish is partly
cartilage and partly bone.
The longnose gar ranges from Montana eastward through the
Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, from the head of Lake
Huron to the
Lawrence River below
Quebec. lt occurs, also, in Lake Simcoe,
Nipissing, the Ottawa River to Lake Champlain, southward to
the Atlantic coastal plain to Florida, and in the Mississippi
Valley to north Mexico and Alabama
The spotted gar (L. producrus), which
differs chiefly from the longnose gar in the length of the
jaw, occurs in Lake Erie and is essentially a southern species.
Habitat The longnose gar is found generally in warm, quiet
areas of larger bodies of water. Habitat requirements may have
prevented their penetration into northern rivers and lakes. The
waters of the Mississippi Valley are believed to have been the
source of the population of this species.
They may be observed floating like sticks near the surface of
the water on warm days or nights. This is a useful form of
mimicry by means of which they may drift towards their prey.
They are sluggish in their habits except when feeding, when they
move swiftly to capture their prey.
They possess gills but, because of the fact that the air bladder
is connected with the pharynx, it may be used as a lung, and
they can rise to the surface to expel air from the air bladder
and take in a fresh supply. The ability to use atmospheric air
in this way enables the fish to live in waters of low oxygen
Spawning: The longnose gar spawns in late spring or in early
summer; they appear in large schools in a suitable spawning
area, in close formation in order to en-sure fertilization of
the eggs. They have polygamous procreating habits. The spawn is
deposited in shallow, weedy- bays, usually on submerged
vegetation or aquatic plant roots.
Glen Hales and Ari
(photos by Nick Benidt)