Though some anglers bow-fish for longnose gar (which are classified as a non-game species in Missouri’s Wildlife Code), many people consider these unusual-looking creatures to be little more than “trash fish” which prey on popular sportfish species.
Species: Longnose gar
Scientific name: Lepisosteus osseus
Nicknames: Needlenose gar, billfish, billy gar
Claim to fame: These, long-nosed, tough-skinned, toothy fish are found in most of this area’s lakes and larger streams. Though some anglers bow-fish for longnose gar (which are classified as a non-game species in Missouri’s Wildlife Code), many people consider these unusual-looking creatures to be little more than “trash fish” which prey on popular sportfish species. However, their hunting activities actually provide anglers a service by keeping fish populations balanced.
Species status: Longnose gar are common throughout much of the state.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the longnose gar was written by the famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
Family matters: Longnose gar belong to the fish family Lepisosteidae, a group of primitive species commonly referred to as the gars. There are seven species of gar found in North America, four of which occur in Missouri. Fossils of gars have been found from the Permian Period (290 million to 248 million years ago), an era which predates the “Age of Dinosaurs.”
Length: Longnose gar commonly reach lengths of three feet or more.
Diet: Longnose gar feed on a variety of fish species, but gizzard shad appear to make up the bulk of their diet. Therein lies one of this species’ benefits to anglers: Gizzard shad are highly prolific, which means gar are one of the species that assist in controlling the shad populations of area waterways.
Weight: Longnose gar commonly grow to weights of five pounds or more. The largest weight recorded in Missouri was 31 pounds.
Distinguishing characteristics: The upper body of a gar is brown or dark olive, which gradually fades to a white belly. The fish’s most obvious characteristics are its elongated snout (“gar” is an Old English word for spear) and its needle-like teeth. The fish’s heavy, plate-like scales are occasionally made into jewelry and were also fashioned into small arrowheads by some Native Americans. Gars have the curious habit of rising to the water’s surface, opening and closing their jaws with a loud snap, then sinking once again. This behavior, termed “breaking,” allows the fish to renew the supply of air to its swim bladder. A gar’s swim bladder is connected to the throat and is richly supplied with oxygen. This abundant oxygen supply allows gar to survive in waters that have oxygen levels much lower than most other fish species could tolerate.
Life span: Males rarely live more than 11 years, but females have been known to live longer than 20 years.
Habitat: Longnose gar typically inhabit reservoirs and the sluggish pools, backwaters and oxbows of large, moderately clear streams.
Life cycle: In the Ozarks, longnose gar spawn from early May to mid-June. The female does not deposit all her eggs at one time and the spawning act is repeated at widely spaced and irregular intervals. The large adhesive eggs are mixed in the gravel as a result of the fish’s thrashing activities that accompany spawning. The eggs hatch in six to eight days. The newly hatched young have an adhesive disc on their snouts that they use to attach themselves to submerged objects until the yolk sac is absorbed.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.