Long-nosed Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

A long, slender fish with a long beak filled with sharp teeth.

(c) MN DNR, C. Iverson

Fish of the Mississippi River

Introduction

A prehistoric fish drifts the backwaters of the Mississippi River today, waiting to snare unwary passing fish. The longnose gar captures its food with a row of long, needle-sharp teeth on a narrow snout that is twice as long as its head. It waits until the prey is in range then lunges and thrashes its head from side to side, impaling its prey. The gar then maneuvers the prey in order to swallow it head first.

The adult longnose gar’s diet is principally fish, which has given it a bad reputation with anglers. But studies show that longnose gar may help control overpopulation of rough fish.

Longnose gar can live in warm, low-oxygen water where few other fish can survive. This adaptability comes from its unique ability to breathe air taking oxygen from the atmosphere through its swim bladder. Longnose gar have been known to live more than 24 hours completely out of the water.

Its skin is armored with hard, overlapping ,diamond-shaped scales that are so tough that these fish have few predators.

Fascinating Facts

  • Gar scales are as hard as tooth enamel. Southern Indians used them tip arrows and early pioneers covered wooden plows with gar skin.
  • Gar eggs are highly toxic to humans.
  • Members of the gar family have been present in North America for about 100 million years.

Identification

Key ID Features: The longnose gar has a thin, long body, averaging 24-36 inches in length, covered with hard plate-like scales. Its olive back fades to silvery sides with distinct black blotches on its sides and tail fin. In Minnesota, longnose gar run 1-3 pounds but occasionally 10-15 pounds.
Present in Park: Yes
Habitat: Floodplain lakes and backwaters of large rivers. Prefers warm, deep water but will school near surface
MN Status: Present

For Further Reading

Last updated: April 13, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101

Phone:

(651) 293-0200
This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. Please leave a voicemail if we miss your call and expect a return call within 1 day, often sooner.

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