In this article, we are learning the facts about North American Garfish of the family Lepisosteidae, also known as Gar. Don't mistake Gar with the needlefish or Garfish of the family Belonidae which is known as Garfish, Belone belone.
A Gar is a long slender fish with an elongated snout. They look more like an alligator with fins and, unlike a fish, can breathe air. They are also known as primitive darts, and their fossils' study shows their existence since the Jurassic era. There are only seven living species of Gar in the world today. Also known as a Garpike, it is not related to the Pikes. They are very slow swimmers found in abundance in freshwater water bodies and brackish seawater. They school together in small numbers, and their diet consists of small invertebrates. The species shows sexual dimorphism with females larger than males. A garfish is a large fish, and you need expert guidance to have one at home in aquariums. Also, the fish is a delicacy for most though a few think otherwise. They have enamel or diamond-like scales used in making jewelry and other artifacts.
A Gar is a fish that swims near the water's surface and does not go much deeper. The fish can breathe in water as well as in air because of its gas bladder, which also acts like a lung. They are relatively large fish and very slow-moving but very quick to prey.
What class of animal does a Garfish belong to?
There are seven species of Garfish in the world today. They belong to the Actinopterygii class in the family Lepisosteidae known for their long snouts. They are part of the genera Atractosteus and Lepisosteus; three belong to the former and four to the latter genus. The Alligator gar is the largest of the seven species. A few other species are also known from the fossil records.
How many Garfish are there in the world?
Though the exact count of these fish is unknown, they are found in abundance in their habitats. Habitat loss and eradication efforts due to multiple reasons their count is showing downtrend. Yes, they are tasty fishes, and you can find multiple Garfish recipes on the internet as well, and interestingly, this is one reason their population is reducing.
Where does a Garfish live?
They live in warm shallow waters of the rivers, lakes, and backwaters of eastern North America, Central America, and Cuba in the Caribbean.
The seven species can all be found in different locations. The Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a giant garfish found in the Southeast United States and Mexico and sometimes known as the southern Garfish species. The Cuban Gar (Atractosteus tristoechus) is seen in rivers and lakes of western Cuba. Tropical Gar (Atractosteus tropicus) are available between southern Mexico and Costa Rica. The Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) can be found in Florida and Georgia. Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) inhabits the waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Eerie, and the Mississippi River System down to the Gulf of Mexico. Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) are endemic to the Mississippi River. And lastly, the Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) is across most Eastern United States.
What is a Garfish's habitat?
Gars mainly live in the fresh and brackish water, but a few are also found in the saltwater. They can live in water with low oxygen levels and swim near the surface. The fish can gulp air by swimming to the water surface and absorb oxygen from the air because of the gas bladder or swim bladder, which acts as a lung and helps buoyancy.
The seven species' habitats vary slightly. The Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula) can tolerate even saltwater and is sometimes called saltwater Garfish, but they prefer the sluggish pools and backwaters. Cuban Gar (Atractosteus tristoechus) are tropical freshwater fish that also inhabit brackish waters. The Tropical Gar (Atractosteus tropicus) inhabits a wide range of fresh and brackish water but avoids areas with a strong current. The Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) prefers medium to large lowland streams, canals, and lakes with muddy or sandy bottoms near underwater vegetation and is more of a freshwater Garfish. Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) like clear, slow-moving, shallow waters and occasionally enters brackish or more salty waters can also be called saltwater Garfish. The Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) is a freshwater fish that inhabits calm waters in the large river and its backwater. And finally the Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) prefer fresh and brackish waters.
Who do Garfish live with?
Garfish may live alone, or in pairs, or in large groups. Most often, Garfish form a group and hunt together. They also shoal with Mackerel and Greater sand eels in their habitat.
How long does a Garfish live?
A Garfish can live between 10-20 years in the wild. But the Alligator gar lives between 10-25 years in the wild. The female Gars tend to have a longer life than the male Gars in this species (but the reason is unknown).
How do they reproduce?
Garfish reproduce by spawning. The breeding season is during April and May, and many Garfishes are seen together at this time. A Gar is sexually mature between three to six years of age. A female spawns with multiple males at a single point in time. Females release thousands of eggs in a season in batches. The eggs attach over and spawn under the vegetation and rocky gravels. They are greenish, an adaptation for survival under the green vegetation. They hatch after a week, and the young attach to the vegetation and hang vertically, absorbing nutrients from the yolk sac. Once the whole sac is empty, juvenile gars start swimming horizontally and take their first aerial breaths swimming to the water surface.
What is their conservation status?
According to the IUCN Red List, the conservation status of all seven species of Garfish is Least Concern. Because of the misconception around these species, their population declined in the past due to mass culling.
Garfish Fun Facts
What do Garfish look like?
Garfish are slim fishes. The long and hard snout with sharp teeth, narrow, elongated body, and feather-like tail with dorsal and anal fins to the rear side of the body give it an appearance like a dart. The snout has sharp teeth resembling a needle in length, giving the Gar an alligator-like look. Gars have very sharp ganoid scales on the body, and the head and snout are bony. Garfish bones are green in color.
How cute are they?
A slim, elongated, and dart-like body shape gives the Garfish a distinctive look that is unlikely for a fish species. The long snout with sharp teeth makes it look dire. The shape of the snout and scales pattern and coloration changes with the species, and each one is unique in its own way.
How do they communicate?
Not much is known about their communication. Studies are underway on how exactly Gars communicate with each other. These fishes are found hunting in groups near the water surface.
How big is a Garfish?
The Garfish is one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world. An adult fish can grow between 2-10 ft in length, depending on species. The females are larger than the males exhibiting sexual dimorphism.
How fast can a Garfish swim?
A Gar is a slow swimmer. It generally floats near the surface of the water and moves very slowly. And it occasionally goes deeper into the water in search of food. The fish is an ambush predator and very quickly strike on their prey.
How much does a Garfish weigh?
An adult Garfish can grow up to 350 lb in weight. The weight of the species again varies with the type, age, and also gender.
What are their male and female names of the species?
The male and female names of Gar do not have different terms and are just called a male Garfish and a female Garfish.
What would you call a baby Garfish?
A baby Garfish is called a fry, just like any other young fish, and does not have any specific name. They hatch from their eggs with the nose and head attached to their yolk, absorbing nutrients from it.
What do they eat?
The Gar is an apex predator who quickly grabs their food with sharp teeth and swallows it. They mainly eat small fish, crustaceans, tadpoles, and sometimes tiny frogs.
Are they rare?
No, the Gar is not a rare species and is found in abundance in their habitat. They are also known as Garpike, Gar, Needlefish, and Nosefish locally.
Would they make a good pet?
Garfish species are fast-growing predatory carnivorous fish and hence should be kept under the guidance of experienced aquarists in a specially made Garfish aquarium. They need large tanks with multiple filtrations as they produce a lot of waste because of their meaty diet. It is a very hardy fish and can adapt well. The fish can survive in almost all water conditions, but you need to change the aquarium water weekly. The fish should be kept in schools of three to six. The other species that can go well with these in aquariums are Oscar, Pacu, Knifefish, and Giant Gourami.
Did you know...
Though the fish is a delicacy for those who enjoy cooking it with any Garfish recipe, their eggs are toxic.
The Garfish have green bones, and because of these bones, some hesitate to eat this fish.
If you're in search of Sea Garfish, Australia coastal areas are inhabited by this particular species. This is the only one found other than in the regions of North America and Europe.
How to catch alligator Garfish
Catching Garfish, especially Alligator garfish, is a challenging task. They are caught using multiple methods, including bow fishing and passive gear such as juglines, limblines, trotlines, and rod and reel. They are attracted by hooking baits at the end of a rod or a hook using small fishes or artificial lures.
How to cook Garfish
Boneless meaty steaks are a delicacy enjoyed by most. They also taste great when deep-fried in oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Any method of cooking Garfish, whether it is deep-fried or pan-fried, grilled or battered, is liked by those who have tasted the fish.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish including the saddled bichir, or Patagonian toothfish.
You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our fish coloring pages.
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