Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)

Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)

The spotted gar is a member of an ancient family, Lepisosteidae, of predaceous fish. It is often confused with its close relative, the Florida gar. The spotted gar has good sporting virtues but is not widely pursued, and it is often caught incidental to other fishing activities. It is not considered a good food fish, and its roe is toxic to humans but not to other fish.

Identification

The body of the spotted gar is long and cylindrical, covered with hard, ganoid (diamond-shaped) scales. It has a single row of teeth in each jaw. The spotted and the Florida gar are the only two gar that have spots on the top of the head, as well as over the entire body and on the fins.

The spots on other gar are limited to the fins and the posterior portions of the body, usually after the pelvic (ventral) fins. The two are generally distinguished by the distance between the front of the eye and the rear edge of the gill cover. If the distance is less than two-thirds the length of the snout, it is a Florida gar; if it is more than two-thirds the length of the snout, it is a spotted gar.


Size

The spotted gar rarely exceeds 3 feet and averages 2.5 feet. The all-tackle world record is a 9-pound, 12-ounce fish caught in Texas in 1994.

Life history/Behavior

Like other gar, this species is often observed basking on the surface on warm days, resembling a floating log. It occasionally breaks the surface and gulps air from its specialized bladder. Spawning occurs in the spring in grassy sloughs.

Other Names

French: garpique tachetée; Spanish: gaspar pintado.

Distribution

The spotted gar ranges from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and down through the Mississippi River drainage system. It occurs all along the Gulf Coast from central Texas to the western portion of the Florida Panhandle. In the north of its range, it occurs eastward to the north and south shores of Lake Erie in northern Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario, but it seldom occurs much west of Illinois.

Habitat

The spotted gar is common in the pools and backwaters of creeks and small to large rivers and in swamps, lakes, and oxbows, often near vegetation. It occasionally enters brackish water and is highly tolerant of warm, stagnant water.
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