Gar Teeth: Everything You Need To Know

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a ray-finned euryhaline fish related to the bowfin in the infraclass Holostei.
© TKBackyard/Shutterstock.com

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Published: October 3, 2022

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Gars are ray-finned fish that belong to the family of long-nosed carnivores that resemble a hybrid of a fish and a reptile. Garfish come in seven different current species, five of which are found in Florida alone. The alligator gar is the largest member of the family, growing to a length of around 10 feet and weighing up to 350 pounds. This species also ranks among the largest of all freshwater fish in the world.

Gars are some of the easiest species of fish to identify. They are easily recognized by their long, slender bodies, beak-like jaws, and scales that are shaped like diamonds. Although all gar species have similar-looking jaws, one of the easiest ways to tell the different species apart is the length and shape of their jaws. Have you ever wondered what the insides of a gar’s mouth look like? Keep reading to know more about their dentition and how their teeth work.

Are Gars Born With Teeth?

Like other fish, baby gars, also called fry, have teeth at the point where they are able to feed themselves. Because they grow their teeth almost immediately, it is easy for them to start feeding on smaller organisms like algae, microscopic organisms, worms, tiny crustaceans, and insects.

Adult Gar Teeth

Gars teeth are replaced regularly.

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Like most fish, gars have teeth that have adapted to their dietary choices. In other words, different species have different types of teeth. Gars are strict carnivores. This means they eat other fish and as such, they have teeth that are designed to puncture. Gars have teeth that fall into three primary categories: canines, molars, and incisors. Unlike humans, they do not have permanent teeth. Their teeth are replaced regularly, most often by new ones growing at the base of old ones or even in the spaces between them. 

Canine

The canine is a large tooth that is typical of most carnivores. It can be straight or curved and typically has the appearance of a cone. Although the canine teeth found in gars are fundamentally different from the ones humans have, there are still a few similarities in how they work. Similar to the canine teeth found in dogs or humans, these fish use their canine teeth for piercing and gripping their prey. 

Molars

In gars, their molars are flat, wide teeth that are used for crushing and grinding food. Some fish have more molars than others, and gars are no different. The number of molars gars have varies, depending on their species and the kind of prey they like to go after. Unlike the molars in humans and other fish species, a gar’s molars are spaced out on both jaws, with two or three being close together and the rest being far apart. 

Incisors

Like most fish, gars also have incisors. One distinct feature that makes the incisors of gars different from humans is that they come in a variety of shapes, such as the shape of a saw-edge. They use their incisors to cut up their prey instead of swallowing it whole.

What Type Of Teeth Do Gars have?

Gar teeth

Gars have rows of tiny villiform teeth.

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As established, there are different species of gars, and although they share some similarities, they are all still very different. One of their many similarities includes the type of teeth they have. Gars of all species have rows of tiny villiform teeth that they use to catch and hold fish in their lengthy jaws while they maneuver the fish into a headfirst position for swallowing.

It is challenging to count villiform teeth because they are so thin and packed that they resemble brush bristles. Because of this, it is difficult to tell how many teeth gars have. Despite all gars having villiform teeth, there are still certain differences in the placement and usage of their teeth. Let’s take a look at them!

Alligator Gar Teeth

Species like alligator gars have two rows of teeth. The palatine or inner row of teeth is longer than the canine or outer row. Alligator gars can stab and grip their prey thanks to their long, thin, and fang-like teeth. In other words, alligator gars have dual rows of massive, sharp teeth on their upper jaws, unlike those of other gar species, which are used to impale and retain prey. Alligator gars are ambush predators that hunt mostly for fish, but they also ambush and eat small animals and waterfowl that they come upon floating on the water surface.

Longnose Gar Teeth

The lengthy snout of the longnose gar features a single row of long, sharp villus teeth. The gar’s large snout and set of fangs allow it to thrash its head and catch and grip prey. They feature a ganoid-scaled, torpedo-shaped body that ranges in color from olive brown to green, elongated jaws that create a needle-like snout that is about three times longer than the head, and a row of numerous sharp, cone-shaped teeth on either side of the upper jaw. Due to their very sharp teeth, they pose some danger and anyone who fishes for longnose gar needs to be careful when handling them.

Up Next:

Florida Gar vs Alligator Gar: What Are The Differences?

What Do Alligator Gar Eat?

Longnose Gar Vs Alligator Gar: Are They Different?


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