You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures of ginormous gar taken in the southwest and deep south, sometimes reaching ten feet and 300 pounds. In year’s past, they were either killed on sight because of fears of attacking swimmers (they don’t) or killing desirable fish (not really.)
The alligator gar was a native species in Indiana but hasn’t been seen in a long time, though no one is willing to say they are absolutely, positively gone. While Indiana creeks and rivers are lousy with long-nose, short-nose and spotted gar, the ‘gator gar probably doesn’t live here anymore.
However, many states are starting to realize that these huge predators serve an important niche in the ecosystem and should be repopulated if possible. Hence, the story below about Illinois working to stock the fish.
One of the most intriguing facts about the alligator gar is the fact that biologists are finding that is one of the only fishes that prey on full-grown invasive Asian carp. This fact alone means that we ought to be stocking these monsters with all haste.
Here is the story about the Illinois stocking program:
When fisheries biologist Rob Hilsabeck holds up a 14-inch alligator gar to show its teeth, it looks like he’s holding a creature straight out of a book about prehistoric animals.
And, well, he is.
The alligator gar, the largest native gar, is an ancient fish with a lineage almost 120 million years long. It has inhabited the Lower Mississippi River drainage from Louisiana and Texas north to Illinois for more than three million years.
Despite their fearsome appearance, alligator gar don’t bother people. But it’s a different story for other aquatic life. The alligator gar is a top predator, growing to almost 200 pounds in size. And the fish live for decades.
But just because the alligator gar has survived on Earth this long doesn’t mean it’s had an easy time. Within the last century, it was found in the Illinois River at least as far north as Beardstown. However, the last confirmed alligator gar was caught in Illinois in 1966 near Cairo. They fell prey to habitat loss and people who found the big fish easy pickings in shallow backwaters.
By 1994, officials determined the species was no longer present in Illinois and removed it from the state list of endangered species.
In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working with states in the gar’s historic range to begin a reintroduction program.
Illinois has released the fish in promising habitats, such as the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area in Cass County.
The Sanganois lies near the confluence of the Sangamon and Illinois rivers. Before the Sangamon was straightened and made to empty into the Illinois River at Beardstown, it broke into braided channels in the Sanganois.
What remains is a complex of backwater wetlands, sloughs and lakes that the gar might find useful.
Gar species information from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Gar are beneficial for the Memphis Commercial Appeal
Photo by U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service