Picture by Chad Thomas, Texas State University-San Marcos
Virginia (Linnaeus 1758).
Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name
Lepisosteus, Greek, “bony scale;” osseus, Latin, meaning “of bone” (Pflieger 1997).
Esox osseus Linnaeus 1758
Maximum size: The angler record, fish recorded at 1,830 mm (72 in), 22.7 kg (50 lb) from the Trinity River, Texas, 30 July 1954 (Walden 1964; Page and Burr 1991).
Coloration: Adult olive to dark green above; whitish below with large round spots on dorsal, anal, and caudal fins. Young distinctly marked with broad brown or blackish mid-lateral stripe from snout to base of caudal fin, with a prominent white stripe immediately below, and chocolate brown stripe on each side of belly (Becker 1983).
Counts: 57-65 lateral scales; 47-55 predorsal scale rows; 17-24 transverse scale rows; 14-31 gill rakers (Etnier and Starnes 1993).
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); gill rakers rudimentary, irregularly arranged (Becker 1983). Large canine teeth in one row on each side of upper jaw (Hubbs et al. 1991, 2008).
Snout long and narrow, its least width goes about 12 to 20 times in snout length; snout more than two-thirds of head length (Hubbs et al. 1991, 2008).
Distribution (Native and Introduced)
U.S. distribution: Found from Quebec through out the eastern United States southward to the Rio Grande drainage in Texas, Mexico and New Mexico (Hubbs et al. 1991, 2008).
Texas distribution: May be found in most Texas Rivers (Hubbs et al. 1991, 2008). Warren et al. (2000) list the following drainage units for species distribution in the state: Red River unit (from the mouth upstream to and including the Kiamchi River), Sabine Lake unit (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), 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: Lower Rio Grande (Robinson 1959); Brazos River (Linam et al. 1994).]
Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, Non-governmental organizations)
Populations in southern drainages are Currently Stable (Warren et al. 2000).
Macrohabitat: Larger streams and coastal inlets throughout range; occasionally found in marine coastal waters (Wiley 1980); occurs in large rivers, reservoirs, swamps and oxbow lakes, and may be expected in small rivers during spawning season (Etnier and Starnes 1993).
Mesohabitat: Fresh and brackish waters (Wiley 1980). Young gar reside in shallow water, moving to deeper water as they grow larger and perhaps becoming more nocturnal (Haase 1969). During daylight hours, most time spent near submerged or overhanging objects close to shore (Echelle and Riggs 1972). At night, commonly found swimming actively in shallow, open waters. This species shows a preference for high water temperatures and has been found in water as warm as 33.9°C, 93°F (Becker 1983). In Texas, they are commonly found in the Brazos River though they are rare in oxbow lakes. However, they may periodically dominate oxbows that connect to the active channel, this occurs when gar enter oxbows during floods to forage and then return to the river as water levels fall (Winemiller et al. 2004).
Spawning season: In the spring; typically when water temperature is between 17.8 to 21.1°C, 64-70°F (Dean 1895; Netsch and Witt 1962). Breeding may occur as late as August, depending on geographic location (Carlander 1969; Wiley 1980).
Spawning Habitat: Nonguarders; open substratum spawners; phytolithophils: nonobligatory plant spawner that deposit eggs on submerged items, have hatching larvae with cement glands in free embryos, have larvae with moderately developed respiratory structures, and have larvae that are photophobic (Simon 1999; Balon 1981). In Wisconsin, spawning occurred on a shallow gravel bar in water 0.3-0.9 m (1-3 ft) deep, with bulrushes were present; spawning also occurred in water 2 m (6.6 ft) deep over a substrate of boulders (Haase 1969). Spawning occurs in gravel shoal areas and among rocks (Dean 1895; Yeager and Bryant 1983); also in the weedy shallows of lakes and rivers (Echelle and Riggs 1972). It has been found that interspecific nest utilization occurs, as longnose gar have been found to deposit their eggs into smallmouth bass nests, presumably to exploit the brood care afforded by the smallmouth bass (Goff 1984).
Spawning behavior: After a period of circling in shallow water with several males females release eggs in repeated batches which are fertilized by the trailing male(s). Longnose gar do not display parental care of eggs or larvae (Dean 1895; Goff 1984).
Fecundity: Multiple clutch spawners (Goff 1984). Depending on size of female, from 1,110-77,156 eggs laid; eggs are green and range from 2.1-5.5 mm (.08-.22 in) in diameter; incubation period 7-9 days, varying with water temperature; emerging sac-fry will attach to submerged objects by adhesive yolk structure, remaining inactive until yolk sac is absorbed (Haase 1969; Echelle and Riggs 1972, Sublette et al. 1990). Yeager and Bryant (1983) reported that eggs hatched in 3 days at 26°C (79°F).
Age at maturation: Males mature at 3-4 years, females at 6 years (Netsch and Witt 1962).
Migration: Have been known to move inshore to shallow water or upstream to spawn in pools as far as 10 km (6.2 mi). Instream residence has been recorded from 15-94 days, with males having longer residence times than females (Yeager and Bryant 1983; Johnson and Noltie 1996).
Growth and Population Structure: Growth rapid during first year of life: In aquariums, Echelle and Riggs (1972) noted average growth of 3.2 mm/day (0.13 in/day); in Michigan, Hubbs (1921) reported estimated daily growth of 2.33 mm (0.09 in); in Wisconsin, Haase (1969) reported growth of 1.5 mm/day (.06 in/day). In Wisconsin, young-of-year reached a maximum of 460 mm (18 in) TL and one-half of maximum growth in length was attained during the first 2-3 years of life (Haase 1969). In central Missouri, Netsch and Witt (1962) determined age and growth from branchiostegal rays: Age-1 males were 495 mm (19.5 in) long, females were 559 mm (22 in); females continue to grow approximately 25 mm/year (0.98 in/year) for 13-14 years; females average 64 mm (2.5 in) longer than males, at the end of the first year; disparity in size increases with age to a point where females are 178 mm (7 in) longer than males at the end of 11th year of life. Yeager and Bryant (1983) reported larvae 8.8-9.9 mm (0.35-0.39) in length at hatching.
Longevity: Haase (1969) recorded a 32-year-old female from Lake Mendota, Wisconsin, and reported males up to 27 years old from the same location. Females outlive males (Netsch and Witt 1962).
Food habits: Trophic classifications and mode: carnivore; whole body (piscivore); ambush (Goldstein and Simon 1999). In Texas, the diet of longnose gar specimens collected included sunfishes, catfish, crayfish, mullets, and specifically gray redhorse, and gizzard shad (Bonham 1941). Main food items are various species of spiny and soft rayed fishes (Haase 1969; Cahn 1927; Goldstein and Simon 1999). In Mississippi coastal waters, heavy predation on menhaden was reported (Goodyear 1967). Young to 50 mm (2 in) TL feed upon invertebrates. Brackish-water individuals are reported to also eat crabs (Carlander 1969; Wiley 1980).
Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes
Lepisosteus osseus specimens larger than 6 inches are not likely to be confused with L. platostomus (shortnose gar) and L. octulatus (spotted gar); L. osseus can be distinguished from the latter two species by the extremely long snout (versus much shorter, wider snouts; Hubbs et al. 1991; Page and Burr 1991; Etnier and Starnes 1993). Smaller juveniles of these three gar species have similar color patterns, but Suttkus (1963) indicated that the dark mid-lateral band of L. osseus is scalloped on its dorsal margin (straight in L. oculatus) and the mid-dorsal stripe is cinnamon colored and narrow (broader and darker in L. oculatus; Etnier and Starnes 1993).
Hybridization between L. osseus and Atractosteus spatula (alligator gar) has been reported (Gilbert 1992). Herrington et al. (2008) provided conclusive evidence of intergeneric hybridization in L. osseus and A. spatula, and described hybrid specimens spawned in an aquarium: body coloration and transverse scale row counts were similar to those of longnose gar; snout length and shape intermediate between those of longnose and alligator gar; two rows of teeth on the upper jaw as seen in alligator gar.
Trematoda (2); Cestoda (1); Nematoda (3); Acanthocephala; Crustacea (Hoffman 1967; Mayberry 2000).
Commercial or Environmental Importance
No information at this time.
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Becker, G.C. 1983. Fishes of Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison. 1052 pp.
Bonham, K. 1941. Food of gars in Texas. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 70(1):356-362.
Cahn, A.R. 1927. An ecological study of the southern Wisconsin fishes. The brook silverside (Labidesthes sicculus) and the cisco (Leucichthys artedi) in their relations to the region. Ill. Biol. Monogr. 11(1):1-151.
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Dean, B. 1895. The early development of gar-pike and sturgeon. J. Morph. 11:1-62.
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