Facts & Guide to Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

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Longnose gar in net
The longnose gar is one of the only gar species left in the world and is known for its long, thin snout which sets it apart from other gar species. Steve Taylor / CC BY 4.0

Only a handful of extant gar species are left in the world. One of these species, the longnose gar, possesses a long, thin snout that helps distinguish it from the other species. This species belongs to one of two genera in the family Lepisosteidae, Lepisosteus and Atractosteus. Generally, Lepisosteus contains species that do not have broad heads like their sister genus, Atractosteus.

Longnose gar are silver-green fish with dark spots along the body and on some fins. These spots are not as intense as those found on the spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus), which has spots on all fins.

Gar are piscivorous hunters that float, motionless, in the water column. Their arrow-like shape lets them dart forward quickly and catch prey in their toothy mouths. Their unusual body shape is considered an “ancestral” trait that evolved long ago. In addition to this body shape, the gar’s scales are armor-like, locking together and giving them nearly impenetrable skin.

LONGNOSE GAR FACT SHEET
COMMON NAMES
Longnose gar
SCIENTIFIC NAME
Lepisosteus osseus
NATIVE RANGE
Native to North and Central America
DIET
Predatory fish
TEMPERATURE
50 to 59°F (10 to 15°C)
LIFESPAN
20 years
AVERAGE SIZE
24 – 36 inches (61 – 91 cm)
IUCN RED LIST STATUS
Least concern

Where Are Longnose Gar Found & What Do They Eat?

Longnose gar underwater
Longnose gar tend to frequent slow-moving rivers, ponds, and impoundments, where they congregate in small groups. Siddarth Machado / CC BY 4.0

The longnose gar, native to North and Central America, boasts the most extensive range among all gar species. Its habitat spans from the East Coast to New Mexico, making it a remarkable presence in the aquatic ecosystems of the region. Notably, the longnose gar’s range extends farther north than other gar species, even reaching regions as far as Quebec!

These unique fish can be found dwelling in slow-moving rivers, tranquil ponds, and impoundments, often congregating in small groups. When hunting, longnose gars hover motionless in the water, patiently awaiting an unsuspecting prey item. When the right moment arrives, they employ a swift sideswipe maneuver to impale the prey on their sharp teeth.

Longnose gars play a crucial role as top predators, primarily preying on forage fish like sunfish, shad, and shiners. By regulating the populations of these prey fish, they help maintain the ecological balance within their habitats. Moreover, their adaptability is impressive; longnose gars can endure higher salinity levels, occasionally venturing into saltier waters to pursue menhaden in coastal estuaries.


How Do I Identify a Longnose Gar?

Longnose gar snout
The easiest way to identify a longnose gar is by its snout, as it is much longer than the rest of its head. Steve Taylor / CC BY 4.0

Longnose gar have distinct features that set them apart from other gar species, such as the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) and the shortnose gar (Lepisosteus platostomus). The most obvious characteristic is the length of the snout or nose. Longnose gars have a very long, slender snout that is usually longer than the rest of their head.

The coloration of longnose gars can vary, but they typically have a silver or olive-green body with irregular dark spots or blotches along their sides. Their coloration can change depending on their age and habitat conditions. Longnose gars are usually smaller than alligator gars, which can grow much larger and have a broader snout. Shortnose gars, on the other hand, have a shorter snout and are generally smaller in size compared to longnose gars.

Visual identification of gar species can sometimes be challenging, especially when they are young or in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. Using multiple characteristics, such as snout length, body shape, and coloration, can help you confidently identify a longnose gar from other gar species.


What Are Some Exciting Traits Found in Longnose Gar?

Longnose gar underwater
The longnose gar’s swim bladder acts as a lung, allowing it to breathe in poorly-oxygenated water. Yannick Lamontagne / CC BY 4.0

Gars belong to ancient lineages of fish represented by only a handful of species today. The oldest gar fossils date back to the late Jurassic. Historically, the gar family was much more diverse, with at least 200 species identified from fossils and evidence of gars being found on every continent. Seven extant fish species, split into two genera and spread across North and Central America, represent the modern assemblage of Lepisosteidae. All gar species in the genus Atractosteus, the broad-nosed gars, have broad snouts and tend to be heavier-bodied than species in the Lepisosteus, commonly called the slender gar.

All extant gars also possess a suit of armor in the form of interlocking ganoid scales. Gar scales are covered in ganoine, a material considered to be a precursor to tooth enamel, which gives ganoid scales strength. In addition, their swim bladder acts like a lung, allowing them to breathe air when there is too little oxygen in the water. Even in well-oxygenated waters, gars gulp oxygen above the water’s surface and breathe via their gills.

Generally, gars are shy, avoiding areas with aggressive fish. They are not aggressive towards other fish as long as they are not small enough to be considered food.


Can I Eat Longnose Gar?

While uncommon, it is possible to eat longnose gar. This is most often practiced in the southern United States, where gar fishing is popular. Generally, longnose gar are considered a “rough fish” and are not typically sought after for their culinary qualities. Gar have tough, bony scales and long, slender bodies, which make it difficult to filet these fish and prepare them for dining. They also have a row of Y-shaped bones running through their fillets, which can be difficult to remove compared to other, more popular sportfish.

Longnose gar filets can be prepared in various ways, including grilling, baking, or frying. Some people find the flesh to have a mild flavor, while others describe it as slightly sweet and firm.

While they are not mainstream food fish, they are a part of the ecosystem, and if you catch and choose to eat them, it’s essential to do so responsibly and per local regulations.


What Does It Mean for a Trait to Be “Ancestral?”

The term “ancestral” in the context of traits or groups of organisms is used in evolutionary biology and taxonomy to describe characteristics or relatively simple lineages that evolved long ago compared to more derived or advanced features or lineages.

The term “ancestral” is also relative and is not an absolute assessment of a trait’s value or importance. Instead, it describes a trait compared to other characteristics within the same group of organisms. For example, a simple, unspecialized limb structure in a group of animals might be considered ancestral compared to a more complex, specialized limb structure in a closely related group.


How Does Longnose Gar Hunt?

Gar are lie-in-wait predators, preferring to hide amongst submerged vegetation, patiently waiting for a prey item to pass by, such as a small sunfish or a shad. All gar species possess a mouthful of sharp teeth and an arrow-like, or sagittiform, body shape. These traits enable their predatory lifestyles. For example, the arrow-like body shape allows them to dart out from hiding and snatch prey quickly.


How Does Longnose Gar Reproduce?

Adult gars gather in groups during the spawning season in the spring and early summer, leaving their eggs scattered amongst submerged vegetation. Once hatched, gar larvae possess an adhesive disk on the tip of their snouts that allows them to attach themselves to vegetation during the first couple of days of development until they are ready to hunt for themselves amongst the aquatic plants.


Can I Eat Longnose Gar Eggs?

Despite being a relative of the sturgeon, a fish group famously exploited for their valuable eggs commercially known as caviar, gar roe contains an ichthyotoxin and is poisonous to humans.

Keyla P
About the author

Keyla P

I have a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources focusing on Wildlife Ecology and a minor in Entomology. I am also an award-winning student researcher with five years of experience with wildlife-related research.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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