The alligator gar, atractosteus spatula, is the largest of the seven different gar species. They measure from 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) and weigh anywhere from 300 to 365 pounds (140 to 166 kilograms). They are olive-green to yellow in color and are heavily scaled. The alligator gar also has a mouth that is filled with sharp teeth, as well as a long, alligator-like snout (hence the name). Despite their ferocious look, there have been no reports of attacks on humans (although their eggs are poisonous to people if they are ingested).
The alligator gar can be found in both the United States (mostly southeast) and Mexico. They prefer to inhabit large, slow-moving rivers, but will also make due with bays, lakes, bayous, and are even able to tolerate brackish and salt water. They are solitary and territorial throughout most of the year, with the exception of the breeding season, and the wintering season. It is believed that they primarily forage for food during the night, although they have been observed hunting during the day as well. The alligator gar will often surface for air, although it is unknown why. They are thought to communicate with one another by blowing bubbles and making gulping sounds.
The diet of an alligator gar consists of mostly fish. They are however, opportunistic hunters and will also consume everything from waterfowl (a bird that swims in the water), to small turtles, to carrion (dead animals). When hunting for prey, the alligator gar will lie motionless next to a log, debris, or under an overhanging tree. They will wait patiently there until a fish passes close enough to it, at which point the alligator gar will ambush its prey and tear it apart with its teeth. Adults have few natural predators, with the American alligator being their greatest threat.
Breeding season (also called spawning season) for the alligator gar takes place in late spring, around April, May and June. The spawning will often take place within flood planes in order to protect the eggs and young gars from predators found in deeper waters. Alligator gars will gather in great numbers with a female (who releases the eggs into the water) and 1 or more males to fertilize the eggs. The eggs are extremely adhesive (sticky), and will stick to underwater vegetation. The eggs will hatch 2 to 3 days later, with the emerging larvae clinging to the same vegetation for several days. The development to juvenile alligator gars takes anywhere from 5 to 10 days. Juveniles will feed on plankton, amphibians, fish and invertebrates and slowly work there way to an almost exclusively fish diet. If the offspring can survive long enough, then they can live to anywhere from 26 (males) to 50 (females).
The alligator gar is a severely threatened species. Commercial fishing and loss of natural habitat are the greatest threats to their population. There are laws in place to help prevent over fishing, but more steps are necessary to save them. Hopefully, alligator gars can recover from their decline and begin to repopulate. After all, such a unique species of gar deserves to live and prosper far into the future.
“Alligator Gar” 25 April 2011
“Alligator Gar Facts” 25 April 2011
“Alligator Gar, Atractosteus Spatula” 25 April 2011