Fun Alligator Gar Facts For Kids

Arpitha Rajendra
Oct 20, 2022 By Arpitha Rajendra
Originally Published on Aug 11, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Read more amazing alligator gar facts here
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.5 Min

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a ray-finned euryhaline species of fish of the family Lepisosteidae. This family consists of seven extant species in two genera.

In the Infraclass Holostei, these species are related to bowfin. The alligator gar is the largest fish species in the family of gars.

They are also one of the largest freshwater species in North America. Fossil evidence shows that the species have been around for almost 100 million years since the early cretaceous.

As they have retained the morphological characteristics of their ancestors, they are referred to as living fossils or primitive fishes. The characteristics are the ability to breathe in water and air and the spiral valve intestine similar to sharks. In 1803, Lacepede first described the alligator gars.

These species were originally called Lepisosteus spatula, which was later changed to the current name by E. O. Wiley. Lepisosteus is a derivation of the Greek terms lepis meaning 'scale,' and osteon meaning 'bone.'

There are three recognized species of gars in the Atractosteus genus. The common name gar was previously used for needlefish species, and gar translates to 'spear.'

If you like these alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) facts, then make sure to check out some fun.

Alligator Gar Interesting Facts

What type of animal is an alligator gar?

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula), also known as gator and greater gar is a ray-finned euryhaline species of fish of order Lepisosteiformes and phylum Chordata. This fish can look lazy when spotted but is deadly and swift when they hunt their prey as they are ambush predators.

The ganoid scales were used for a breastplate, as shielding to cover plow and arrow-head. Throughout natural history, this fish is also a sport fish and can also be kept as aquarium fish.

The alligator gar is a nocturnal fish. This fish floats near the water surface.

What class of animal does an alligator gar belong to?

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) belongs to the Actinopterygii class of animals.

How many alligator gars are there in the world?

The number of alligator gar (gator) populations across the world are not known.

Where does an alligator gar live?

The range of habitat of the alligator gar species extends across the Southern United States. The distribution of the alligator gar fish occurs in the south near the Gulf Coast of Texas and into Tamaulipas through northern Veracruz, Mexico.

The distribution in Costa Rica and Nicaragua is however considered 'refuted and suspected.' The alligator gar has rarely been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico.

These largest alligator gar populations are usually seen breaking surface in brackish marshes, reservoirs, and bayous.

They are also found across the lower Mississippi river and states of Gulf coast of Mexico and Southern U.S extends to Veracruz, Mexico including Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Georgia, and Tennesse.

Records of the natural history of this fish state that these fishes occupied as far north as Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and western-central Illinois, where the alligator gar population has gone extinct.

In 1922, the most northerly catch was made in Meredosia, Illinois. To control the Asian carp population in between Illinois and Tennesse, these were efforts made to reintroduce alligator gars in 2016.

What is an alligator gar's habitat?

The habitat range of alligator gar species extends to a wide variety of aquatic regions. The alligator gar occupies reservoirs, coastal plain, lakes, lowland, and large rivers, brackish waters of bayous, bays, and estuaries

Who does alligator gar live with?

The alligator gar (gator) species lives in large schools.

How long does an alligator gar live?

The average lifespan of the alligator gar (gator) is 10-30 years. However, the gar that has a longer body length can live up to 50 years.

How do they reproduce?

The alligator gar lives a long life, so they reach sexual maturity at a later stage. Several females are sexually mature only after a decade of their life and males mature in half that period.

The spawning is effective with the right conditions. With rising water temperature, photoperiod, and flooding to trigger spawning, the preparations start in spring.

When large rivers rise to spread across the floodplain, this creates oxbow sloughs, lakes, and immerse the terrestrial vegetation, this provides nutrient-rich habitat range and protection for the fry and larval fish. The species of gar move into weed-laden and grassy shallows to spawn once the temperature is around 68-82 F (20-28 C).

When males gather around gravid females, the spawning starts. Males twist, wiggle,  slither on and bump into females as it triggers the release of eggs.

The females release an average of 150,000 eggs per spawning season. The eggs are bright red-colored and are poisonous to human beings.

The egg production of these freshwater fishes is variable and depends on the size of the female alligator gar. As the eggs are released into the water column, males release a lot of milts to fertilize the eggs.

The eggs are sticky and get attached to submerged vegetation. In only a few days the gar eggs hatch and feed on the yolk sac.

Once this yolk sac gets empty the need to start moving as young fry. Typically a lake can support only a few adult alligator gar or young fry, many young ones become prey to other fishes.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of the alligator gar is evaluated as Least Concern. This freshwater fish faces a threat of overfishing. These gar species have lost their habitats in many regions due to the channelization and building of dams.

Alligator Gar Fun Facts

What does alligator gar look like?

The alligator gar is the largest of the seven known other gar species in North America. The body of the alligator gar is torpedo-shaped with a broad head.

The alligator gar has a brown to grayish green dorsal surface and a white or yellow ventral surface. The dorsal surface has brown spots. The body is slender and long with sharp teeth in their strong jaws.

The gar's tail is heterocercal and eyes are small. The swim bladder can function as a lung. These gars have a broad and short snout and their upper jaw has two rows of teeth which helps them as predators.

The anal and dorsal fins are located at the back of their body and caudal fins are unsymmetrical. These species have different scales called ganoid scales, which are rhomboidal in shape.

Incredible Alligator Gar Facts

How cute are they?

These freshwater fish species have an alligator-like appearance so, they are not considered cute.

How do they communicate?

There is not much data on the communication methods of an alligator gar. Although, they detect motion in water using their lateral line system. They might also use visual and chemical cues.

How big is an alligator gar?

The giant alligator gar size range is 6-10 ft (1.8-3 m).  The longnose gar is 6.5 ft (1.9 m), making them smaller in size than the alligator gar.

How fast can an alligator gar swim?

The alligator gar is swift and can swim up to 11 mph (17.7 kph).

How much does an alligator gar weigh?

The alligator gar weighs over 100 lb (45 kg). The biggest alligator gar using rod and reel catch technique is a world and Texas record alligator gar weighing 279 lb (127 kg). These species are almost 10 times heavier than spotted gars.

What are the male and female names of the species?

There is no specific name given to male and female alligator gar.

What would you call a baby alligator gar?

The baby or young alligator gar is called a fry.

What do they eat?

The alligator gar diet is carnivorous. As this fish is an ambush predator the alligator gar attack the prey swiftly.

The ambush method is to float a few feet below the surface and wait for the prey. They then lunge forward in a sweeping motion and grab the prey, stabbing the prey with their teeth. These fishes feed on fishes, turtles, ducks, carrion, and small mammals.

Are they dangerous?

This species of gar fishes are ambush predators. The alligator gar bites or pinches humans when threatened but there are not many records of this. However, some alligator gar attacks are not recorded.

Would they make a good pet?

Yes, you can keep these species of gar as a pet. However, they require huge spaced aquariums. They are kept in zoos and public aquariums. Also, it is illegal in some places to keep these species as pets.

Did you know...

After catching three people trying to illegally sell these gars in 2011, special agents of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the U.s Fish and Wildlife Department, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducted a sting operation.

As per a survey conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 70% of people made use of the rod and reel technique to catch the alligator gar.

How did alligator gars get their name?

The alligator gar got their name because of their alligator-like appearance with sharp teeth and broad heads. The term gar is a term based on Anglo-Saxon that means 'lance' or 'spike.'

What's unique about the alligator gar?

Unique characteristics of the alligator gar are that this ambush predator can be differentiated by the dagger-like sharp teeth and their prehistoric features. The ability to breathe in water as well as air is an ancient feature retained by these species.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these Arctic char facts and gar facts for kids.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring on one of our free printable Alligator gar coloring pages.

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Written by Arpitha Rajendra

Bachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

Arpitha Rajendra picture

Arpitha RajendraBachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

With a background in Aeronautical Engineering and practical experience in various technical areas, Arpitha is a valuable member of the Kidadl content writing team. She did her Bachelor's degree in Engineering, specializing in Aeronautical Engineering, at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology in 2020. Arpitha has honed her skills through her work with leading companies in Bangalore, where she contributed to several noteworthy projects, including the development of high-performance aircraft using morphing technology and the analysis of crack propagation using Abaqus XFEM.

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