Gar

Lepisosteidae

Last updated: May 10, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

The gar evolved from an ancient lineage of fish!



Gar Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Lepisosteiformes
Family
Lepisosteidae
Scientific Name
Lepisosteidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Gar Conservation Status


Gar Facts

Prey
Crustaceans, insects, frogs, and fish
Group Behavior
  • Solitary/Group
Fun Fact
The gar evolved from an ancient lineage of fish!
Estimated Population Size
The gar evolved from an ancient lineage of fish!
Biggest Threat
Hunting
Most Distinctive Feature
The long snout
Other Name(s)
Garpike
Gestation Period
A few days
Water Type
  • Fresh
Optimum pH Level
6 - 9
Habitat
Rivers, bayous, lakes, and estuaries
Predators
Large Fish, Alligators, Humans
Diet
Carnivore
Favorite Food
Fish
Type
Fish
Common Name
Gar
Average Clutch Size
10
Slogan
Can grow to more than 3m long!

Gar Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Black
  • Green
Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
10 - 20 years
Weight
Up to 350 pounds
Length
Up to 10 feet

Gar Images

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Gar swimming is a river
Gar in an aquarium
Gar swimming among grass
Gar among rocks
Gar swimming among grass
Gar in a river
The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a ray-finned euryhaline fish related to the bowfin in the infraclass Holostei.
Alligator gar on white background

View all of the Gar images!



Resembling a cross between a reptile and a fish, the gar fish is a family of long-nosed carnivorous animals that inhabit the freshwaters of North America.

They make slow, languid movements through the water, but this merely hides how quickly they can strike at their prey. Although numbers are dwindling in some areas, the gar fish is not yet threatened by human activity. In Europe and Australia, gar refers to a different unrelated family of needlefish, which sometimes causes confusion.

3 Incredible Gar Facts!

  • The gar fish arose some 157 million years ago in the late Jurassic Period. Based on fossil evidence, it originally evolved in Mexico and then radiated out to Europe and the rest of America when the two continents were still closely aligned. This ancient lineage is evident in the gar’s cartilage-based skeletal system and reptile-like vertebrae.
  • The hard scales of the gar have been used to make jewelry, lamp shades, plows, arrows, and armor throughout history.
  • Because of its unusual body structure, the gar is a popular fish at several aquariums, including the Georgia Aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Gar Scientific Name

Gar, as a taxonomical term, can describe either the order of Lepisosteiformes or the specific family of Lepisosteidae within this order. Both terms derive from the Latin word lepis for scales. All types of gar belong to the class of ray-finned fish known as the Actinopterygii.

Types Of Gar: The 7 Different Gar Species

There are seven living species of gar fish (five of them in Florida alone) and several more extinct species known from the fossil record. The first three species belong to the genus of Atractosteus, whereas the final four belong to the species of Lepisosteus.

  • Alligator Gar: As the largest species of gar, this species is sometimes mistaken for the alligator. It inhabits the Southeast United States and Mexico.
  • Cuban Gar: This freshwater fish inhabits the rivers and lakes of western Cuba.
  • Tropical Gar: As one of the few exclusively tropical gar, this species inhabits a range of territory between southern Mexico and Costa Rica, where it feeds primarily on cichlids and other tropical fish.
  • Florida Gar: Found exclusively in Florida and Georgia, this species prefers the muddy bottoms of rivers and lakes.
  • Spotted Gar: With its small, black spotted body, this fish inhabits the waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Eerie, and the Mississippi River System down to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Shortnose Gar: This aptly named species is endemic to the Mississippi River and surrounding bodies of water.
  • Longnose Gar: With its long, narrow snout, the longnose gar inhabits a large range of territory across most of the Eastern United States.

Gar Appearance

The most interesting physical characteristic of this fish is perhaps the most obvious. With its narrow body, protruding snout, and feather-like tail, it looks a bit like a dart. This is actually an important adaptation. The massive snout contains rows and rows of sharp needle-like teeth that help with crushing shells and consuming prey.

Another important adaptation is the way that the swim bladder is connected directly to the esophagus. This allows the gar to breath in air amid stagnant low-oxygen water.


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The largest species in the family is the alligator gar, which measures around 10 feet in length and weighs up to 350 pounds. This species also ranks among the largest of all freshwater fish in the world. The smallest species is the shortnose gar at around 2 feet in length. The female tends to be larger than the male in the spotted gar and a few other species. Most of them have interlocking and protective bony plates known as ganoid scales sometimes arranged in a diamond shape all over their bodies.

Gar swimming among grass
Gar swimming among grass

Gar Distribution, Population, and Habitat

These fish are largely confined to freshwater rivers, bayous, and other brackish water with low oxygen content, but a few species venture out into saltwater bodies as well. The fish floats slowly like logs in the water, sometimes plumbing the depths in search of food, but it must return to the surface occasionally to take in air.

Although exact population numbers are unknown, the gar as a whole is in good health. According to conservation estimates, almost every species is listed as least concern, which is the best possible prognosis, but some local populations appear to be decreasing in number. For instance, the alligator gar is becoming rarer in states like Missouri and Tennessee.

Gar Predators and Prey

The fish’s diet consists mainly of crustaceans, insects, frogs, and other fish. These slow-moving animals are opportunistic predators that scoop up nearby prey in its mouth with a simple strike of the head. It is not particularly picky about whether the prey is dead or alive. Because of its status as an apex predator throughout its natural habitat, they have few natural predators besides humans. The biggest threat to this animal is not necessary fishing, as they are uncommonly eaten as food, but hunting and pollution have caused some population numbers to decline.

Gar Reproduction and Lifespan

No matter where they live, most species (with the exception of the longnose gar) prefer to spawn in the spring. The females move to the shallow water and then deposit on vegetation thousands of large-sized sticky eggs with yolk contained within. These eggs are actually toxic to many predators, including humans, which affords a degree of protection (though some fish appear to be immune to the toxin).

After a few days, the young larvae emerge from the eggs and then attach to the vegetation with an adhesive organ at the tip of the snout. The young juveniles survive the early stages of life by absorbing what remains of the egg yolk and later by feeding on minnows and other fish larvae. Life expectancy varies by species, but the fish reaches sexual maturity after a few years and lives about 10 to 20 years in the wild (though the alligator gar appears to live 50 years or more). In many species, the female tends to live longer than the male.

Gar in Fishing and Cooking

This is not a very common type of dish, especially outside of its native region, but it is sometimes caught by both commercial and recreational fishers by simple nets or fishing rods. People describe it as having a firm, mild taste, different from any other species of fish. Their flesh is not harmful on its own, but it does sometimes accumulate toxins and pollution from the environment and so consumption is limited or banned in some areas. By contrast, the eggs are most certainly toxic and may cause a bout of sickness.

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Gar FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What does gar eat?

The gar’s diet consists of crustaceans, insects, frogs, and other fish.

Are gars aggressive?

The gar may have a rather fearsome appearance with its scaly skin and sharp teeth, but it actually has no interest in anything outside of its traditional prey, and it has never been known to attack humans. People who catch gar may want to watch out for its teeth when it thrashes around though.

Is gar good to eat?

The gar has a mild and nutritious flesh that is suitable for frying, but in no circumstances should you eat the toxic eggs. If you are cooking gar by yourself, then you should cut out the eggs and surrounding flesh.

Does gar scare away bass?

Gar may have the tendency to scare away smaller game fish, but there is a misconception that the gar is a “trash fish” that destroys nets and decimates fish populations. This led to a mass culling of alligator gar in the 20th century. As the gar’s reputation improved (and misconceptions were corrected), so did the population numbers.

What is the biggest gar ever caught?

The largest gar ever recorded was 8.5 feet long and weighed 327 pounds. Having lived to a ripe old age of 94, this alligator gar was accidentally discovered at Lake Chotard in Mississippi in 2011.

What Kingdom do Gars belong to?

Gars belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum to Gars belong to?

Gars belong to the phylum Chordata.

What family do Gars belong to?

Gars belong to the family Lepisosteidae.

What order do Gars belong to?

Gars belong to the order Lepisosteiformes.

What type of covering do Gars have?

Gars are covered in Scales.

In what type of habitat do Gars live?

Gars live in rivers, bayous, lakes, and estuaries.

What are some predators of Gars?

Predators of Gars include large fish, alligators, and humans.

How many eggs do Gars lay?

Gars typically lay 10 eggs.

What is an interesting fact about Gars?

Gars can grow to more than 3m long!

What is the scientific name for the Gar?

The scientific name for the Gar is Lepisosteidae.

What is a distinguishing feature of the Gar?

Gars have a long snout.

What is the lifespan of a Gar?

Gars can live for 10 to 20 years.

What is the biggest threat to the Gar?

The biggest threat to the Gar is hunting.

What is the optimal pH for a Gar?

The optimal pH for a Gar is between 6.0 and 9.0.

What is another name for the Gar?

The Gar is also called the garpike.

How do Gars have babies?

Gars lay eggs.

Sources
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
  7. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/gar
  8. Seaworld Parks & Entertainment, Available here: https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/bony-fish/gars/
  9. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Available here: https://myfwc.com/research/freshwater/sport-fishes/alligator-gar/profile/
  10. Texas Parks & Wildlife, Available here: https://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/management/alligator-gar/edible.phtml

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