Alligator Gar

Alligator_Gar_10

Profile

The alligator gar is a large fish living in the eastern United states and north-eastern Mexico. This species is the largest known member in the seven-species gar genus. These giants are also one of the biggest freshwater fish in North America. Alligator gars are normally olive-green or yellow, and have an alligator-like snout that gives them their name. The name “gar” comes from an old English word meaning “spear.” They catch their food much like an alligator does, giving them the first part of their name.

Habitat

These fish prefer to live in slow-moving rivers or lakes. They are not picky about where they live and can stand water that is somewhat saltier than normal

Size

Alligator gars are quite large and grow up to 10 feet (3 m) long. That’s as long as a normal basketball hoop is off the ground! Although the largest individual recorded weighed 327 pounds (148 kg), most ones that are measured are much smaller. In general, for each foot (30 cm) longer one of these animals grows, its age doubles. For example an average 2.5 year old alligator gar is three feet (.9 m) long. If the animal is foot (30 cm) longer (four feet or 1.2 m), it will be about five years old, double the earlier age. Using this trick,  people have estimated that the largest alligator gar caught may have been around 95 years old!

Diet

Although alligator gars eat mainly smaller fish, they have been recorded eating other animals as well. They are opportunistic, eating whatever comes by them, and do not chase food down. They can also eat water birds, turtles, and small mammals. Although they are normally slow when waiting for food, they use quick bursts of speed to capture their next meal before it runs, flies, or swims away. Alligators hunt in much the same way. After being caught, the alligator gar’s prey has little chance of escaping from the sharp teeth that hold it in its predator’s mouth. Although they look vicious, no attacks on humans by these animals have been reported.

Threats

Because they are so large, alligator gars have virtually no predators when they are adults, but they may still be eaten as young. Sometimes people attempt to catch large alligator gars as trophies. This fish has gained popularity and more and more people are wanting to land one of these huge fish. In order to help alligator gars survive fishermen, the state of Texas has instituted a limit of keeping only one of these animals each day for one person. Other laws in different states attempt to help keep up the population of these animals. There are other threats to alligator gars besides fishing. Flood control measures such as dams have eliminated some of these fish’s spawning areas. Also they will produce fewer or no offspring if the weather is not right. All of these threats combined are reducing the population of this amazing animal.

Spawning

Like most fish, alligator gars spawn instead of mating. When the time and temperature are right [in the spring with temperatures higher than 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius)], females will release up to 134,000 eggs which are then fertilized by the male. Although they can lay up to this many eggs at once, the number is normally closer to 77,000 which is still a lot. These eggs are poisonous to humans if they are eaten.

Young

A few days after spawning, the eggs hatch. At this time of life, the young will eat small fish or insects. If they are lucky, these young can expect to live for several decades.

Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom and leave your guess about what the next animal is!

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Photo credits:

  • Alligator gar – Greg Hume
  • Mystery animal – Hugo Claessen

Sources:

  • http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/alligator-gar/
  • http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/species/alg/
  • http://www.fws.gov/warmsprings/fishhatchery/species/alligatorgar.html
  • http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Atractosteus_spatula/
  • http://www.fieldandstream.com/articles/fishing/2005/01/fun-facts-about-alligator-gar
  • http://fishing.about.com/od/bowfinandgar/a/alligator_gar.htm
  • http://www.tnaqua.org/OurAnimals/Fishes/AlligatorGar.aspx
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