|Image: Joachim S. Müller|
Or maybe you'll get eaten and there'll only be a finger left?
Oh, alright... so a Gar probably won't eat you. They're not one for tackling prey anywhere near their own size. They would rather swallow small things whole than have to bother slicing and dicing a huge mound of dinner into more manageable chunks. And this is good, because some Gars are bigger than people!
There are seven species of Gar, all belonging to the Lepisosteidae family.
|Image: Stan Shebs|
Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)
|Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula)|
|Image: Tanya Dewey|
Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)
The Tropical Gar takes over where the Longnose stops, since it lives throughout much of Central America.
Cuban Gar (Atractosteus tristoechus)
Wherever they are, Gars prefer lakes and slow-moving rivers where they can skulk around among vegetation. They may also saunter into brackish waters and a few might even get into the ocean, but they're mainly freshwater fish.
Video: victor abbley
Although the water doesn't have to be all that fresh. Gars can survive in stagnant and oxygen-deprived waters because they can breathe air. Their gut is connected to the swim bladder by a tube, meaning a Gar can rise to the surface, swallow a gutful of air and then use the swim bladder as a kind of lung.
Perhaps it's not surprising then to learn that Gars are careful about their use of oxygen. By which I mean they're lazy. Gars are usually sluggish and not terribly enthusiastic about swimming or moving around. Until they come across something to eat, that is. Once they approach a fish or a crab or, as a special treat, some kind of waterfowl, they flick the switch. Suddenly the Gar becomes a veritable athlete, lunging at their prey with a burst of speed and grabbing hold with their impressive collection of teeth.
But it isn't all teeth and eating. It's mostly teeth and eating, but there's a little more to Gars than just that.
For one, it must be noted that these are ancient fish. Fossil Gars have been found all over the world, dating back as much as 100 million years to the Cretaceous Period. Modern Gars to this day retain a host of characteristics that harken back to their old, globe-trotting days.
Video: Rostro Rostratus
The most obvious one is their covering of thick, diamond-shaped scales which inspired the family name Lepisosteidae - it comes from the Greek words for "scale" and "bone". Each scale is made up of three layers: a bony layer at the bottom, a layer of dentine (which is the main stuff in our teeth and the second hardest tissue in our bodies) and then a top layer of a bone mineral called ganoine (a bit like the enamel which covers our teeth and is the hardest material in our bodies). Gars are, in a way, covered in a suit of armour made out of teeth!
As I say, mostly teeth and eating.
And, like sharks and Sturgeons, Gars also have a spiral valve. This is a bit of intestine where the inner lining is shaped like a corkscrew. Food has to spiral round and around so the Gar can absorb all the nutrients despite having a rather short intestine.
Unlike Sturgeons, and moving away from teeth and eating at last, Gar eggs are poisonous. There's no caviar here, I'm afraid! Females lay tens of thousands of sticky eggs that adhere to vegetation.
|Image: Konrad P. Schmidt|
Gar larva with yolk sac
Gars grow quite quickly, with some some species reaching a foot or two in their first year. By that time
their sheer size along with those thick scales will protect them from most predators. Many species will have to wait a few more years before they're old enough to breed and they may live for 20 or 30 years.
There can be no better mascot for good dental hygiene than a Gar.