An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
Alligator Gar Photo by Matthew R. Thomas
Longnose Gar Photo by Matthew R. Thomas
Shortnose Gar Photo by Matthew R. Thomas
Spotted Gar Photo by Matthew R. Thomas
Gars are an ancient group of fishes that belong to the Family Lepisostidae. There are four species of gar in Kentucky: Alligator Gar, Longnose Gar, Shortnose Gar, and Spotted Gar. They occur in a variety of habitats, although they are usually associated with large bodies of water such as rivers and reservoirs. They have a long and slender body covered with diamond shaped ganoid scales. Gars are ambush predators and their long body shape allows for quick movements to catch prey. They have a lung like swimbladder which allows them to rise to the surface of the water and gulp air. This type of swimbladder allows the group to survive in low dissolved oxygen conditions. They are often seen either alone or in loosely formed groups resting just beneath the surface. Spawning occurs in spring and summer months. Fertilization is external and eggs are adhesive. All gar eggs are reported to be TOXIC to humans. In some areas of the Southeastern United States, gars are consumed in large numbers. They have a mild flavor and a firm white flesh. While gars are generally scorned by commercial and sport fishermen, they have an important ecological role as a top predator in reducing the overpopulation of forage fishes.
Identification: All gars have long and slender bodies, beak-like jaws, and large, diamond-shaped scales. Alligator Gar is the largest species, reaching 9 ft. (300 lbs). It is distinguished from other gars by its short, broad snout, and heavy body. Spotted Gar has a unique pattern of large spots on the top of head and body. Shortnose Gar is similar to Spotted Gar, but lacks spots on head and body. Both species are usually less than 3 ft. (5-10 lbs). Longnose Gar is easily distinguished from other gars by having an extremely long and narrow snout. It can grow to 6 ft. (50 lbs). Differences in head shape among the four species of gar are illustrated below.
Photos by Matthew R. Thomas
Distribution and Habitat: Longnose Gar is common statewide in streams, rivers, and reservoirs. Spotted Gar and Shortnose Gar occur in the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and in western Kentucky, from the lower Green River basin to the Mississippi River. Alligator Gar once occurred in the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and in backwaters and embayments along the lower Ohio and Mississippi River floodplains in western Kentucky. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is working to re-establish native populations to these habitats.