Picture by Chad Thomas, Texas State University-San Marcos



Lepisosteus oculatus

spotted gar



Type Locality

Duck Lake, Calhoun Co., MI, (Winchell 1864).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name:

Lepisosteus, Greek, “bony scale;” oculatus, Latin meaning “provided with eyes,” in reference to the numerous dark spots on the head and body (Pflieger 1997).



Lepisosteus oculatus Winchell 1864:183.

Lepisosteus productus Cook 1959:55.



Maximum size: 1,092 mm (43 in) TL (Lambou 1961b).


Coloration: Back and upper sides olive, to whitish below, with numerous dark oval spots on head, body, and fins. Suttkus (1963) noted fish from more heavily stained water from pinelands and cypress swamps tended to be darker, some having the ventral surface dark. Young gar have a brown mid-lateral band extending from snout to upper lobe of caudal fin, upper side of the band generally even anteriorly, becoming more irregular past the mid-body. Lower edge of band, bounded by distinct white band. Undersides of body have numerous small black spots on white background. Upper lobe of caudal fin yellow-brown and lower lobe has irregular black bars medially. Edge of caudal fin black; middorsal band brown; dorsal, anal, pelvic fins have irregular brown bars; each pectoral fin has brown spot at base, becoming clear distally (Ross 2001).


Counts: 54-57 lateral line scales; 46-49 predorsal scales; 32-38 scale rows around body (Hubbs et al. 1991); 15-24 pear shaped gill rakers; 6-9 dorsal soft fin rays; 7-9 anal soft fin rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Long and cylindrical.


Mouth position: Terminal (Goldstein and Simon 1999).


Morphology:  Scales ganoid; tail abbreviate-heterocercal (vertebrae moving into dorsal portion of fin); Snout short and blunt, its least width about five to seven times its length; snout less than two-thirds of head length; large canine teeth in one row on each side of upper jaw  (Hubbs et al. 1991).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Occurs from Lake Erie southeastward through the Ohio and Missouri drainages of the Mississippi, then westward through the coastal streams of Texas (Hubbs et al 1991).


Texas distribution: Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage units for species distribution in the state: Red River unit, Sabine Lake unit (including minor coastal drainages up to and including the Kiamichi River), Galveston Bay unit (including minor coastal drainages west to mouth of Brazos River), Brazos River unit, Colorado River unit, San Antonio Bay unit (including minor coastal drainages west of mouth of Colorado River to mouth of Nueces River), Nueces River unit.


Additional literature noting collection of this species from Texas locations includes, but is not limited to the following: Big Sandy Creek (Evans and Noble 1979); Hillebrandt Bayou (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987a); Oyster Creek (Linam and Kleinsasser 1987b); Allens Creek and the Brazos River (Austin Co.; Linam et al.1994); San Antonio River and Guadalupe River (Edwards 1999); Pinto Creek (Edwards 2003).


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, Non-governmental organizations)

Populations in the southern drainages are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Most abundant in clear, quiet waters with aquatic vegetation; may enter brackish water along Gulf Coast (Lee and Wiley 1980). In the Brazos River, Texas, found in the river channel and, on occasion, oxbow lakes (Winemiller et al. 2004).


Mesohabitat: In Lake Texoma, Oklahoma, young-of-year inhabited densely weeded areas; largely inactive during the day; actively swam in open waters at night. Adults were in deeper water during the day, moving into shallow areas at night (Echelle and Riggs 1972). May be less tolerant of turbidity than other gar and tend to be more associated with aquatic vegetation (Lee and Wiley 1980; Pfliger 1997; Ross 2001).



Spawning season: In Lake Texoma, Oklahoma spawning in spring (April), in weedy backwaters over dead vegetation and algal mats (Echelle and Riggs 1972); in Lake Lawtonka, OK, mid-April to early June (Tyler and Granger 1984); in southeastern Missouri, spawning observed in late April (Redmond 1964); in Louisiana, February - June (Love 2004).


Spawning habitat: Nonguarder; open substratum spawner; phytophil: obligatory plant spawners with adhesive egg envelopes that stick to submerged live or dead plants. Spawning in shallow water among rooted aquatic vegetation (Lee and Wiley 1980; Tyler and Granger 1984; Love 2004). In Mingo Swamp, southeastern Missouri, spawning observed in rapidly-flowing water coming from a tract of flooded timber (Redmond 1964).


Spawning Behavior: In southwestern Oklahoma, Tyler and Granger (1984) observed typical behavior: a large female, closely accompanied by 3-5 much smaller males, would swim slowly through well-vegetated shallows; apparent moment of egg deposition denoted by quick jerks, thrashing and splashing of the female.


Fecundity: In Louisiana, fecundity highest during October (mean number of eggs = 13, 798 ± 7,654 SE), lowest during June (mean number of eggs = 1,772 ± 392 SE); ova diameters varied among months and among individuals within a month; mean ova diameter during spawning season (February-June) was 3.02 mm ± 0.02 SE; a female can release over 5,000 ova during the spawning season, but number likely varies with body size (Love 2004). Recently hatched young are typical of young Lepisosteus generally, with a well-developed adhesive organ on the snout and a large ovoid yolk sac (Simon and Tyberghein 1991).


Age at maturation: In Louisiana, before age 2 (Love 2004); in Missouri, males mature at 2-3 years old; females mature at 3-4 years old (Redmond 1964).


Migration: No information at this time.


Growth and Population Structure: Males grew faster than females in a Louisiana study: males averaged 278 mm (11 in)after the first year, then an average of 33-48 mm/yr (1.3-1.8 in/yr) during the first four years, then less than 16 mm/yr (.62 in/yr) for remaining years; females averaged 299 mm (11.7 in) after the first year, then an average of 38 mm/year (1.5 in/yr), then 30.5 mm/year (1.2 in/yr) for remaining years. Sex ratios were near 1:1 for ages 1-7, but females more common than males for ages 8-10 (1 male and 7 females); condition generally lowest during fall, varied by sex during seasons (Love 2004). In southeastern Missouri, species reaches a length of about 254 mm (10 in) at end of first year of life, and is about 508 mm (20 in) long at 3 years old. Males grow faster than females for the first 2 years, but thereafter females grow more rapidly and attain the largest size (Redmond 1964). Larval development: yolk-sac larvae 7-8 mm (.30-.31) TL at hatching, with adhesive disk on snout; by 16-17 mm (.63-.67) TL, there are 44-47 preanal, 12-15 postanal, 58-59 total myomeres; median fin fold still continuous, pectoral fin is rounded but without apparent rays; yolk sac absorbed by about 17 mm (.67 in) TL (Simon and Wallus 1990). Pope and Wilde (2003) studied variation in L. oculatus mass-length relationships in Texas reservoirs: total length and mass measured on 883 spotted gar collected between 1984 and 1996 from 49 reservoirs; mass was positively related to length; mass-length relationships differed significantly among reservoirs.


Longevity: In a Louisiana study, males lived up to 8 years, and females up to 10 years (Love 2004). In a southeastern Missouri study, an 18 year old female was found (Redmond 1964).


Food habits: Trophic classifications, mode, and feeding behavior follow: carnivore; whole body (piscivore); ambush; voracious piscivore (Goldstein and Simon 1999). In inland habitats, small spotted gar (15-114 mm, .6-4.5 in TL) feed on crustaceans (Cladocera), insects, and fishes, switching to mostly fish at larger sizes; in Lake Texoma, diet composition which includes inland silverside and shad suggests primarily surface oriented feeding (Echelle and Riggs 1972). In Texas, Bonham (1941) reported crayfish and gizzard shad were most important food items, followed by small sunfish and minnows (length not exceeding 40 mm, 1.6 in); freshwater shrimp (Palaemonetes exilipes) is also a common item of diet. In southeastern Missouri, mosquito larvae and small crustaceans are first food of young spotted gar, with fish appearing in diet at an early age and thereafter becoming the main food; mosquitofish and topminnows being the principal species taken by young gar; 90% of adult diet consists of fishes, mostly gizzard shad, and the remaining 10% includes freshwater shrimp, crayfish, and insects (Redmond 1964). In Lake Ponchartrain area of Louisiana, 93% of gar from one locality had consumed fishes, commonly sheepshead minnows, sailfin mollies, and mosquitofish; various sunfishes may also be a common food item. Spotted gar collected from another site fed mostly (61% of gar) on arthropods, including blue crabs; fishes such as inland silversides and gulf menhaden were also an important food item. Plant material was common in the diet, but may have been incidental while feeding on fishes (Lambou 1961a; Knight and Hastings 1987). In tidewater areas, depending upon the habitat, diet includes numerous blue crabs and fishes. In coastal areas of Mississippi, small fiddler crabs are the primary prey in shallow bayous, while small blue crabs are primary prey in open water; gulf menhaden were the main fish prey. Fishes may be more important food item at night, rather than during daylight hours; feeding was noted to intensify during rising or high tides (Goodyear 1967; Ross 2001).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

Lepisosteus oculatus most closely resembles L. platostomus in snout shape but usually has more spotting on head, fins and body, though spotting less evident on specimens from turbid water. Also, L. oculatus has 54-58 (versus usually 60-63) lateral scale rows and usually 47-50 (versus 52-53) predorsal scales.  L. oculatus differs from L. osseus in having a relatively shorter and much broader snout. Larvae have 45-49 preanal myomeres versus 37-45 in L. osseus and L. platostomus (Boschung and Mayden 2004).


Host Records

Cestoda (1); Acanthocephala (Texas) (1) (Mayberry et al., 2000).


Commercial or Environmental Importance

Generally not sought by anglers; however, flesh is palatable. Eggs are toxic and should not be eaten (Ross 2001).



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Bonham, K. 1941. Food of gars in Texas. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 70(1):356-362.

Boschung, H.T., Jr., and R.L. Mayden. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Books, Washington. 736 pp.

Cook. F. A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson.

Echelle, A. A., and C. D. Riggs. 1972. Aspects of the early life history or gars (Lepisosteus) in Lake Texoma. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 101(1):106-112.

Edwards, R.J. 1999. Ecological profiles for selected stream-dwelling Texas freshwater fishes II. Report to the Texas Water Development Board. 69 pp.

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