10 Incredible Alligator Gar Facts

Written by Janet F. Murray
Updated: August 28, 2023
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10 Alligator Gar Facts
Alligator gars are huge fish that are prized by anglers.

Alligator gars are fascinating fish that are named for their resemblance to alligators. However, thankfully they are not as dangerous. Alligator gars are pretty large, and people regard them as hazardous because of their size. But this gar, the second-largest freshwater fish in North America and a living fossil, actually helps to maintain fish populations. Read on to discover even more incredible alligator gar facts!

1. They Are the Largest of all the Gars

An Alligator gar, Atractosteus spatula, while swimming in a huge aquarium
Alligator gars can grow to 10 feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds.

©Bill Roque/Shutterstock.com

Alligator gars are the largest species of garfish. These fish usually weigh up to 300 pounds and reach up to 10 feet in length, ensuring they are some of the biggest freshwater fish in North America. Male alligator gars are often larger than the females. The biggest alligator gar documented was caught in Mississippi’s Lake Chotard in 2011 and weighed a massive 327 pounds.

2. It’s Called an Alligator Gar because It looks like an Alligator

Alligator gar fish.The fish is also known for its ability to survive outside the water, being able to last for up to two hours above the surface.
Alligator gars often come up to the surface and are mistaken for gators.

©DeepGreen/Shutterstock.com

Alligators have long, thin bodies, snouts, and a row of sharp teeth. Alligator gars have the same features as alligators but also have pectoral, pelvic, dorsal, and anal fins. Alligator gars have various color variations, like gray, green, and brown. They also have dark spots on their backs which fade to white or yellow as they reach the lower stomach. Alligator gars also have a bladder that functions like a lung, allowing them to survive in low-oxygen water. They can also tolerate small amounts of salt water but don’t live in the open oceans.

3. Alligator Gars Live in the Southern United States and Eastern Mexico

Most Expensive Fish: Platinum Alligator Gar
Alligator gars live in freshwaters across the southern United States and Mexico.

©Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com

Alligator gars live in lakes, rivers, estuaries, swamps, bayous, and reservoirs across the southern regions of the United States and eastern Mexico. They used to live in Iowa and Nebraska, but their populations died out because of excessive fishing. Despite being extensively hunted in Iowa and Nebraska, the alligator gars are of the least concern, according to the IUCN Red List. Most of their threats, besides overhunting, are pollution and habitat changes, but this has not significantly damaged their numbers

4. The Alligator Gar is a Fierce Predator

closeup of the face of a alligator gar opening its mouth, The denture of a alligator gar, fish showing its sharp teeth, tropical fish specie from America
Like the alligator it is named for – alligator gars are fierce ambush predators.
Image: Charlotte Bleijenberg, Shutterstock

©Charlotte Bleijenberg/Shutterstock.com

Another incredible alligator gar fact is how they are such skilled hunters. These gars are smart, ambush predators that wait for their prey. They will lie on the bottom of a riverbed or lake or slowly swim a few feet below their target before attacking. Alligator gar attacks their prey by lunging forward in a sweeping motion and grabbing their prey using their enormous jaws. They have evolved into fierce predators with excellent vision and can sense chemicals from their prey. But these gars do not significantly deplete fish stocks. Instead, they help to maintain healthy fish populations.

5. Alligator Gar don’t only Eat Fish

ALLIGATOR GAR STRUGGLING EATING MEAT
Large alligator gars eat turtles, birds, and small mammals.
Image: Wilson Anyie, Shutterstock

©Wilson Anyie/Shutterstock.com

These carnivorous gars eat smaller fish like carp and shad. However, they will also eat almost any creature that can fit in their mouths. Besides fish, alligator gar eat turtles, birds, and even small mammals.

6. Alligator Gar Lay Thousands of Eggs

Huge Alligator Gar Close Up
Female alligator gars lay up to 30,000 eggs per year.
Image: Morrissey Design Studio, Shutterstock

©Morrissey Design Studio/Shutterstock.com

One of the most incredible alligator gar facts is that the females can carry and lay thousands of eggs! The breeding season usually takes place from May to July. Some female gars do not reproduce yearly and will only reproduce if the water overruns the banks to create floodplains. The female gar will then lay up to 30,000 eggs per year on the rocks and vegetation near the banks of the water source.

The eggs will hatch after six to eight days and absorb all the yolk until none remains. Many of the young will die from predation, but the ones who survive will grow rapidly in their first two years. Alligator gars reach sexual maturity at approximately 11 years and can live to over 50 years old in the wild.

7. Alligator Gar is Not the Only Species of Gar

Spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in North America
An interesting spotted gar fact is that it looks like the alligator gar but is smaller and has beautiful spotted markings.

©volkova natalia/Shutterstock.com

Other gar species are the shortnose gar, spotted gar, and longnose gar. The shortnose gar has a short, broad snout and is not as large as the alligator gar. The spotted gar looks similar to the shortnose gar but has black spots on its head and fins. The longnose gar has the longest and thinnest snout of all the different gar species.

8. Many Anglers Catch the Alligator Gar to Eat

Alligator gars grow to huge sizes, as seen with this fish caught in Texas in 2004.
Alligator gars grow to huge sizes and are considered by anglers to be quite tasty.

©Clinton & Charles Robertson / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Catching the alligator gar is not easy as these fish are fierce and will put up a good fight because they’re game fish. Yet that doesn’t stop anglers from catching them. Besides providing anglers with a good hunt, their meat is also suitable for consumption, making recreational angling for this fish a worthwhile challenge. Alligator gars have white, firm flesh and a mild taste. People cook alligator gar by frying or barbecuing them.

9. Alligator Gars could Seriously Injure Humans

Alligator gar
Alligator gar have sharp teeth and strong jaws that could cause an excruciating injury to humans.

©Jennifer White Maxwell/Shutterstock.com

These predatory fish in the wild are more passive than ones in captivity. But, the fact is that a captive alligator gar may become aggressive in a tank with insufficient space or food. Alligator gars also have giant mouths with sharp teeth that evolved to eat prey like turtles and snakes. It would be excruciating if an alligator gar were to bite a person. However, anecdotal reports provide some evidence of alligator gars attacking people, although no documented cases exist.

10. The Living Fossil

This spectacular Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) swims in the freshwater with sunlight rays shining on its body.
Alligator gar look almost exactly the same today as their relatives did millions of years ago

©Cheng Wei/Shutterstock.com

The final incredible alligator gar fact we have for you today is that they are known as “living fossils”. Charles Darwin himself described alligator gars as “living fossils” because of their primitive anatomy and the fact that they look almost exactly the same as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. Their relatives first existed approximately 157 million years ago and were found right across the world.


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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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Sources
  1. Seaworld, Available here: https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/bony-fish/gars/
  2. Kidadl, Available here: https://kidadl.com/facts/animals/alligator-gar-facts
  3. Life of Fish, Available here: https://lifeoffish.com/alligator-gar-size-12-interesting-facts-you-must-know/#What_is_the_giant_alligator_gar
  4. Missouri Department of Conservation, Available here: https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/alligator-gar