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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Longnose Gar
Lepisosteus osseus
Gars are called “living fossils” because nearly all their relatives are extinct. They were abundant in Europe during the Tertiary or the first period of the Cenozoic but, before the close of that period, which embraced approximately 58 million years measured by radio-activity, they became extinct in Europe, and the family is now exclusively North American in its distribution. .)

Gars are distinguished by their slender cylindrical bodies, their thin, long jaws which are produced forward into a beak, and by the more or less diamond-shaped scales that cover the body. The jaws are armed with sharp teeth.

Longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus) is the accepted common name of the fish but billfish and gar pike are also used. It has a very elongated and subcylindrical body, covered with obliquely and regularly arranged diamond-shaped, hard plates or scales, covered with an enamel-like substance, ganoin.

The body length attained may be five feet, but the average is much less. Three-foot specimens are not uncommon. The jaws are elongated into a beak which is twice the length of the head and provided with several rows of teeth which are exceptionally strong, sharp and conical.

Although extremely variable, the colour is more commonly greenish above, silvery on the sides and whitish below. The body and fins have large black spots or blotches, and young individuals have a blackish lateral band. The skeleton of the fish is partly cartilage and partly bone.

The longnose gar is found in rivers and lakes throughout the eastern half of the United States, as far north as southern Quebec and extreme southern Ontario in the Great Lakes and as far south as northern Mexico. The most concentrated numbers of longnose gars are found throughout the American Deep South, Texas, Alabama (Cahaba River system) and anywhere along the Mississippi River. Longnose Gar are found in warm, shallow water with abundant vegetation.

The longnose gar is found generally in warm, quiet areas of larger bodies of water. Habitat requirements may have prevented their penetration into northern rivers and lakes. The waters of the Mississippi Valley are believed to have been the source of the population of this species.

They may be observed floating like sticks near the surface of the water on warm days or nights. This is a useful form of mimicry by means of which they may drift towards their prey. They are sluggish in their habits except when feeding, when they move swiftly to capture their prey.

They possess gills but, because of the fact that the air bladder is connected with the pharynx, it may be used as a lung, and they can rise to the surface to expel air from the air bladder and take in a fresh supply. The ability to use atmospheric air in this way enables the fish to live in waters of low oxygen content.

The longnose gar spawns in late spring or in early summer; they appear in large schools in a suitable spawning area, in close formation in order to en-sure fertilization of the eggs. They have polygamous procreating habits. The spawn is deposited in shallow, weedy- bays, usually on submerged vegetation or aquatic plant roots.


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