Fun Facts About Alligator Gar

Inhabiting waters throughout the lower Mississippi River basin and along the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico, the monstrous, long-lived (to 75 years) alligator gar (Lepisosteus spatula) has been variously reviled and revered by freshwater anglers throughout history. Dismissed by some as a gamefish-devouring, muddy-water-dwelling trash species, the alligator gar is nonetheless heralded by a growing number of devotees as a premier sport fish--hard fighting, mean, and (in growing to 8 feet and 300 pounds) just about the biggest thing you're apt to encounter in inland waters.

  1. TEETH The alligator gar has a savage collection of teeth, which it uses to grab and manipulate prey as it feeds. A double row of teeth on the upper bill distinguishes the alligator gar from other members of the genus.

  2. SCALES The alligator gar's hard scales fit together like the tesserae of a mosaic to form an armorlike shell. Covered with a durable substance called ganoine, similar to tooth enamel, these scales were used as arrowheads by Native Americans.

  3. AIR BLADDER Thick, spongy, and highly vascular, the gar's air bladder behaves like a lung to aerate the fish's blood. It has a connection to the throat, through which the gar can "breathe" when it breaks the surface. This adaptation allows the fish to live in turbid, stagnant waters low in dissolved oxygen: under such conditions, it may obtain as much as 70 percent of the oxygen it needs from the atmosphere.

  4. VERTEBRAE The bones of the gar's spine fit together like a series of ball-and-socket joints--a feature unique among fishes and common to reptiles and amphibians. This lets the gar move its head in an alligator-like fashion, violently nodding and thrashing to help it devour prey.

  5. SKELETON Because of its unique skeletal composition--a curious mix of cartilage and bone--ichthyologists believe the gar to be an ancient link between the cartilaginous sharks and bony fish.