Floridian Nature

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Florida Fish: Gar
Alligator gar fish found in Florida lakes and streamsAlligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula) Alligator Gar are one of the most distinctive freshwater fish species. Alligator gars are the largest of all gar species with a head that looks very much like an alligator's. They can be distinguished from all other gars species by the two rows of teeth in the upper jaw, their short-broader snout, and their size when fully grown. The body of the alligator gar is long, slender, and olive or greenish brown (sometimes black) along the back and upper sides with white to yellow bellies. The sides are mottled toward the head with large black spots toward the rear and on the rear fins. Young alligator gar have a light stripe along their back from tip of snout to upper base of caudal fin. Found in the Escambia, Yellow and Choctawhatchee rivers in northwest Florida, alligator gar have also been found in the Econfina/Bear Creek area of Bay County. Alligator gar  inhabit sluggish pools and backwaters of large rivers, bayous and lakes, and rarely are found in brackish or salt water. Alligator gar are one of the monsters of fresh waters. They can reach lengths of up to 10 feet and weights of more than 200 pounds! They mainly feed on fish but are known to eat ducks and other water birds.

Florida gar are found in the Ochlockonee river in FloridaFlorida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus)  Florida gar have irregular round, black spots on the top of the head and over the entire body and on all the fins. Other gars, except for spotted gars, have spots on the fins and usually on the posterior part of the body. They can be distinguished from other gars, such as spotted gars, by the distance from the front of the eye to the back of the gill cover. In Florida gars, the distance is less than two-thirds the length of the snout. In spotted gars, the distance is more than two-thirds the length of the snout. Other characteristics of Florida gars include a shorter, broader snout with a single row of irregularly spaced sharp teeth on both upper and lower jaws and no bony scales on the throat. The coloration is olive-brown along the back and upper sides with a white-to-yellow belly. The young sometimes have dark stripes along back and sides. leeches. Florida gar are found in the Ochlockonee River and waters east and south in peninsular Florida. They inhabit medium-to-large lowland streams, canals and lakes with mud or sand bottoms near underwater vegetation. Like all gars, they use an air bladder to breathe air to survive in poorly oxygenated water. Florida gars grow rapidly and can reach a length of 30 inches. Young fish feed on zooplankton, insect larvae and small fish. Adults primarily feed on fish, shrimp and crayfish.`


longnose gar found in rivers and streams in Florida Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus) Longnose gar are olive-brown or deep green along the back and upper sides, with silver-white bellies. There are a few irregular, large dark spots on the body. The young display scattered spots over both sides, the upper and lower jaws and on their ventral fins. The longnose is generally distinguished from other gars by its longer, more slender body, and especially by its longer, narrower snout. The snout is twice the length of the rest of the head. Longnose gar inhabit sluggish, sometimes poorly oxygenated water, backwaters and oxbows of medium-to-large rivers and lakes. Longnose gars as well as other gar species are able to tolerate poor water quality by breathing air through its air bladder. Longnose gar are one of the most widespread and numerous of the gar species in Florida. They generally are found north of and in Lake Okeechobee,  near vegetation and occasionally in brackish waters. Females grow faster, bigger, and live longer than males and can attain lengths in excess of five feet. Young fish mainly feed on zooplankton while larger ones feed on small fishes, frogs and crustaceans. Longnose gar feed by stalking their prey or lying in wait for it to come within striking distance. Spawning occurs between December and March in Florida. Adhesive eggs are scattered in shallow water over vegetation or other structure and hatch between six and eight days later.

Spotted gar occur west of the Ochlockonee River in the panhandle of Florida, east of the Apalachicola drainageSpotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) Spotted gars are almost identical to Florida gars. Both species are the only two gars that have dark spots on the top of the head as well as over the entire body and on all the fins. They can be distinguished by the distance between the front of the eye and the rear edge of the gill cover. If the distance is more than two-thirds the length of the snout, it is a spotted gar. If the distance is less than two-thirds the length of the snout, it is a Florida gar. Spotted gars have a single row of teeth in each jaw and has a much broader snout than that of the longnose gar. The coloration of the spotted gar generally is darker than that of Florida gars, some fish being almost black, depending on the color of the water. Spotted gar occur west of the Ochlockonee River in the panhandle of Florida, east of the Apalachicola drainage and in the remainder of the state they are replaced by its closest relative, the Florida gar. They prefer quiet, clear pools and backwaters of lowland creeks; small-to-large rivers, swamps, sloughs and ditches with an abundance of vegetation or debris. Spotted gars occasionally enter salt water. They also use an air bladder to breathe air in oxygen depleted water. Growth is very rapid during the first year for the spotted gar and they reach a maximum length of up to four feet. Young fish feed on zooplankton, small insect larvae and tiny fish larvae. Adult fish primarily feed on fish and crustaceans.
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