Photo courtesy of Konrad Schmidt
Longnose gar - Common name
Lepisosteus osseus - Scientific name
Family - Lepisosteidae (gars )
Status : S3, G5
IDENTIFICATION: The longnose gar is an ancient fish and is similar in appearance to a northern pike, having a very long cylindrical body and the dorsal fin well back. The longnose gar can reach lengths of 4 feet (1.3 meters) in South Dakota, but is typically shorter. The body is an olive green to brown above and white below, and is covered by an armoring of hard, bony scales that feel like a layer of chain wrapped around the body. Unlike a pike, the longnose gar has a rounded tail with no fork. The longnose gar has a very long slender snout that is filled with sharp needle-like teeth. The snout is about 20 times longer than it is wide, and about two times as long as its head . It has black spots on its body and fins. They are slimy to touch and have a distinct foul odor.
SIMILAR SPECIES FOUND IN SOUTH DAKOTA: The longnose gar looks very similar to the shortnose gar, and the two species can occur together. The shortnose gar is very common in South Dakota and inhabits the same rivers and tributaries as the longnose gar. Both species have long snouts, but the longnose gar has a longer, narrower snout that is more than twice as long as the rest of its head, and about 20 times longer than it is wide. The shortnose gar has a shorter and wider snout, being about 6 times longer than it is wide.
HABITS AND HABITAT: Longnose gar inhabit large rivers, backwaters, and lakes. The gar is carnivorous, feeding on smaller fishes that are both dead and alive. Gars can come to the surface and gulp air to survive in poorly oxygenated waters. The longnose gar spawns in the spring. Several males will swim along side a larger female. Eggs are deposited on weeds or on the bottom of the lake or stream. The eggs hatch in a week. Young gars have a disk on the tip of their snout when they are hatched that they use to attach themselves to logs or rocks before they start feeding.
DISTRIBUTION: Distribution Map. Longnose gar are widespread throughout the eastern United States as far south as Texas and into Florida. Eastern South Dakota forms part of the western edge of the species range. In eastern South Dakota, not including the Missouri River, the longnose gar has been found in the lower James River in Sanborn and Hutchinson Counties, and in the Vermillion River in Clay County. They were also found near the mouth of tributaries to the James River. Longnose gar have not been documented in the Big Sioux River in South Dakota, but have been found in the lower Big Sioux River in Iowa. It is likely that the longnose gar does not migrate up the Big Sioux River past the falls at Sioux Falls.
CAUSES OF CONCERN AND CONSERVATION MEASURES: Longnose gar are rarely found in South Dakota because this is the western most extent of its range. Although the shortnose gar is quite common in the rivers of eastern South Dakota , the longnose gar is much scarcer.