crocodile finches

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The giant alligator gar is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, but don't be fooled by its huge teeth and terrifying appearance. It poses no particular attack risk to humans.

alligator gar-1


Unfortunately, this species has earned a bad reputation as a trash fish in its native habitat. The species was hunted mercilessly in the 20th century, under the false belief that it would damage fishing nets and eat game fish. Once this misconception was finally corrected, the crocodile population increased rapidly.

4 Unbelievable Facts!

  • According to the fossil record, the evolution of damselfish as a group dates back more than 100 million years. Modern eels still retain many "old" traits, including the ability to breathe both air and water, and a shark-like spiral valve gut.
  • The name "gar" is of Anglo-Saxon origin and means spike or spear. (Anglo-Saxon was the language spoken before the development of modern English)
  • A gar's body is covered with thick scales.
  • Some Native Americans used to make arrowheads and axes from the scales and heads of alligator gars.
  • The largest alligator gar ever recorded weighed 327 pounds! It was caught in Mississippi. Extraordinarily large alligator finches are also common in Texas.

taxonomic name

Sunlight shines on this majestic alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) as it swims in fresh water.
All seven species of damselfish are found in North and Central America.

© Cheng Wei/

The scientific name of the alligator gar is Atractosteus spatula . The name spatula comes from a Latin word that roughly translates to "a flat piece." Alligators are closely related to two other gar species within the genus Atractosteus : the Cuban gar and the tropical gar. Closely related to the genus Lepisosteus are four other species of gar. Together, these seven species represent all extant types of damselfish in the family Lepisosteidae, all found in North and Central America:

  • Crocodile, Atractosteus spatula
  • Cuba, Atractosteus tristoechus
  • Florida, Lepisosteus platyrhincus
  • Longnose, Lepisosteus osseus
  • Shortnose, Lepisosteus platostomus
  • Spotted Lepisosteus oculatus
  • tropical. Tropical herb

Alligator vs. Proboscis

Some people confuse the two species. The main difference is that the longnose damselfish has a smaller body (about 6.5 feet long), but a larger snout relative to body size. It also has a wider distribution throughout much of the eastern United States.


Alligator gars are giant heavyweight fish in their native environment. At 10 feet long and weighing up to 350 pounds, it is the largest of all eels and one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. The 2011 world record catch was 327 lbs. The record-breaking fish was found in Mississippi's Lake Schotar.

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a radiate-finned euryhalal fish, related to the bowfin fish in the suborder Holostei.
The nose of the alligator gar looks like that of an alligator, hence the name, although they are not related.


The species' name was apparently based on its physical resemblance to a crocodile. Like its namesake, the alligator gar has a long body and snout with a row of sharp teeth. But unlike the crocodile, the damselfish has fins to help it swim underwater. The two pectoral fins are on the right side of the head, the pelvic fins are on the middle of the body, and the dorsal and anal fins are on the right side of the tail. With the exception of some rare varieties, most alligator gars tend to be similar in color. Black spots of gray, green and brown predominate on the back. These colors then fade to yellow or white around the lower abdomen.

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Distribution, Population and Habitat

Alligators live in lakes, rivers, estuaries, swamps, estuaries, and reservoirs in the southern United States and eastern Mexico. Its range once extended as far north as Iowa and Nebraska, but after years of hunting, the alligator gar is now found mostly in the lower Mississippi River basin, possibly as far south as Veracruz, Mexico . The damselfish's bladder acts as a kind of lung, allowing it to survive in water with low oxygen content. It is also capable of tolerating a little salt water, but it never ventures out to sea.

Alligator gar is listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List. Common threats include pollution, habitat change and overhunting. Crocodiles have been hunted on a large scale for nothing more than the false belief that it kills prey and destroys fishing nets. The population has recovered as hunting has ceased, but it has not yet filled all of its former habitat.

Alligator gars use their sharp teeth to prey on fish, turtles, birds, and small mammals.

©Charlotte Bleijenberg/

predator and prey

The alligator gar is one of the top predators in its natural freshwater environment. It is an ambush predator, lurking in wait for prey before attacking with its large jaws. The damselfish's good eyesight and ability to sense chemicals appear to be their primary means of detecting prey in the water. They play a similar role to sharks in marine ecosystems by keeping prey populations within healthy numbers.

What do alligator damselfish eat?

The alligator gar eats just about anything it can fit in its mouth, including small fish, turtles, birds, and even small mammals. Some of their favorite fish include buffalo fish, carp, and herring.

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For a full breakdown of what alligators eat, be sure to check out our guide, What Alligators Eat, which lists 10 of their favorite prey.

What do alligator gars eat?

Adult alligator gars have few predators in the wild, except humans and true alligators. Juveniles are also sometimes preyed upon by other fish.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Close-up of a crocodile swimming
Alligator gars require about 10 years of their 50-year lifespan to reach sexual maturity.

©tristan tan/

Scientists have not studied the reproductive behavior and development of alligator gar in depth. As far as we know, we can say that the breeding season occurs between May and July. Females don't breed every year, at least in Texas. Instead, she tends to reproduce when water floods the banks and creates floodplains. This enables her to lay thousands of dark green or red eggs on rocks and vegetation near the river bank. Although they receive little parental care, unborn gars have a very useful defense mechanism: Their eggs are poisonous and cannot be ingested.

After about six to eight days, the offspring hatch from the eggs, only a fraction of their adult size. Their long, strong body is almost like a stick. A disc on the nose keeps them attached to rocks and vegetation, and they continue to grow rapidly by absorbing what's left of the yolk sac. After the yolk is depleted, they must be prepared to fend for themselves.

Since a typical lake can support no more than a few hundred crocodiles, many juveniles are apparently predated at an early age. This fish grows rapidly during the first year or two of life, whereas alligator gar takes about 10 years to reach sexual maturity. Some live more than 50 years in the wild. Women seem to live longer on average than men.

fishing and cooking

This fish is a very niche fish that only the most dedicated recreational anglers attempt to catch. For those fishermen who are up for the challenge, it is a true test of readiness and ability. According to a survey by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, about 70 percent of respondents use a typical rod and reel as their primary means of catching alligator gar. Most of the rest use bows and arrows. Fishermen also use passive devices such as juglines, limblines and trotlines.

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The flesh of these fish is white and firm, with a mild flavor similar to the flesh of many other sport fish. Common cooking methods include frying and grilling guacamole. However, under no circumstances should poisonous eggs be consumed. They may cause temporary illness.

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Alligators should only be caught by experienced fishermen. According to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, "The most commonly used setup in Texas is to place cut carp on a 5/0 or larger round, triple, or J-hook with a gap wide enough to encircle the jaws. Fish Hooks are usually fastened with strong braided line to steel jiggers with or without weights, hanging or for river or lake bottom fishing." Fishermen should give damselfish some time to swallow the bait before attempting to reel it In, otherwise it is very resistant to hooks.

Despite its ferocious appearance, alligator gars do not attack humans. However, fishermen need to be vigilant. When it struggles on the hook, the sharp teeth can easily cut the skin.

Both juvenile and adult alligator gum are safe to eat, but alligator eggs are poisonous and should never be eaten.

The main differences between barramundi and crocodiles are body size, snout, teeth, diet and classification . Not only are lancefish a different species than crocodiles, but they're also in a different genus—although both still belong to the perch family. Found in a wider range of habitats in the Midwestern and Eastern United States, damselfish are half the size and weight of alligators. In fact, in terms of body size, a perch can be up to one-third the length of a crocodile.

The biggest difference between Florida gar and alligator gar is their size and range. The alligator gar is a large fish weighing between 100 and 350 pounds and between 6 and 10 feet in length. The Florida gar is a small fish weighing between 3 and 10 pounds and about 1.8 to 4.4 feet long.