Comprised of seven species, all of which inhabit the Americas, gars are considered to be living fossils; primitive fish that have maintained several prehistoric features that modern fish have long evolved away from. Along with the bowfin, the gar is almost unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs.
Characterized by their elongate bodies, armored scales and long, thin nose, gars are ferocious ambush predators. Their slim mouths are lined with needle-like teeth, which pierce and hold on to prey like razor-sharp Velcro. As an ambush predator, the gar drifts near motionless, waiting for prey to cross its line of sight. With a lightening speed snap it snags them across its jaws and begins working them around to swallow head-first.
What makes the gar a successful predator is its ability to exploit waters that many other large predators avoid. The gar’s vascular air bladder, used to regulate buoyancy in most fish, is connected to the gar’s throat, allowing them to take in gulps of air like primitive lungs. This allows them to survive in waters with little or no oxygen content. Low metabolism helps them to conserve oxygen and energy, and make them near-motionless when they hunt. Shallow water, with little flow and higher temperatures are just fine for the gar. Here their colors and patterns help them blend into the environment. Appearing to be a drifting log or stick, they can sneak up on prey without being detected. Gars are generally freshwater fish, but their tolerance of various water conditions allow them to successfully populate brackish waters and they can sometimes migrate out to sea.
In New York State, we have only one species of Gar: the Longnose—named for having the longest snout in relation to the rest of the body. Although a large fish for our region, the Longnose certainly isn’t the largest gar in the world. That honor goes to the Alligator Gar, a native of the southeastern US that can weigh more than 300 pounds!
The details presented below generally represent adult specimens, not juveniles.
New York State Gar Identification Guide
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