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Alligator Gar, considered a primitive species, is one of the largest freshwater fishes in North America. Fish have been reported over nine feet and 350 pound. Gars in the four to six feed range and well over 100 pounds are regularly captured. Alligator’s are sometimes confused with other gar species due to their similarity of appearance. However, this species is easily distinguishable with experience, training, and upon visual comparison. Gar are passive, solitary fish inhabit sluggish pools and backwaters or large rivers, bayous, and lakes in the southeastern U.S., primarily the Lower Mississippi River Valley and Gulf Coast states.
This gar is unique in that it possesses a dual row of large teeth in the upper jaw. Alligator gars are distinct from other gars by having a heavier and broader body, a short broad snout, and numerous large gator-like teeth. Colors are typically dark olive green along the back, fading to grayish shades along the sides, with a whitish belly. Their large bony scales along the mid-line have varying shades that help camouflage the fish. Historically, the scales have been used for jewelry. Fins often are black spotted and often have a reddish-pink hue. Colors vary widely depending on water turbidity. The fish is also known for its ability to survive outside the water.
When water temperatures reach the low 70’s, Alligator gar spawn in shallow, calm waters over flooded vegetation. They often congregate in high densities. Females are accompanied by one or more males. After fertilization the sticky egg masses adhere to vegetative matter, where they hatch in two to three days. Fry remain attached to the vegetation for several days until the egg yolk sac is fully absorbed. Young gar feed on plankton, invertebrates, amphibians, and fish, ultimately transitioning to a diet of primarily fish captured primarily by ambuse. It should be noted that the eggs are toxic to most vertebrates and crustaceans, so they should not be eaten or handled.
Bow fishing accounts for most of the sport fishing harvest, with some caught by conventional tackle. Many states where they were once unregulated now have or are considering regulations for management, conservation, and recovery of the species, as this species has experience large declines from historical numbers.