Close this search box.
Open Today 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Don’t Panic! The Alligator Gar Should be Admired, Not Feared

alligator gar swims underwater

Discover a Texas Monster Fish

By Helen Holdsworth, Chief of Engagement, Witte Museum

What is this creature? Is it a cross between an alligator and a fish? It kind of looks like one, with its long snout and sharp teeth, but no. It is the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula), a species of fish that can be linked to the time of dinosaurs. In fact, fossil evidence dates it to Early Cretaceous—100 million years ago!

Alligator gar look a little scary because of their alligator-like snout, sharp teeth and bony scales, but they are no threat to people. You may see them swimming in many of Texas’ rivers, reservoirs and coastal bays. Special adaptations allow them to live in water of high salinity, like on the Texas coast, and in water with low oxygen content. The alligator gar’s swim bladder is connected to a hole in its mouth through which the fish can gulp air, if needed.

This particular gar species has a very long life span, with some living up to 60 years, and it may grow eight feet long and up to 300 pounds (The official Texas record is an alligator gar weighing 302 pounds, caught in 1953). Its enormous size makes the alligator gar one of the world’s great “monster” fish!

close up view of alligator gar snout
Photo courtesy of Chase Fountain

Female gar do not reproduce until they reach about five to ten years of age, and they only lay eggs once every ten years. Their eggs are laid near the banks of flooded areas in the spring and the eggs hatch within 48 hours. Biologists report that the fish grows quickly when young and growth slows way down as the gar ages. You can estimate their age by their length. A three-foot gar is probably 2.5 years old and a seven-foot gar could be as old as 40!

Alligator gar are at the top of the food chain in their watery habitat, growing two rows of large teeth on both sides of the upper jaw. They are piscivores (a carnivorous animal that eats primarily fish), consuming other fish species such as carp, shad and buffalo, and are ambush predators that mainly hunt at night, lying in wait for a fish to swim by. They will also eat blue crabs, turtles, small mammals and birds.

In Texas, the population of the species is stable. You may fish for alligator gar, but there is a one-per-day bag limit to protect the population. Stewardship of the species and the habitat in which the gars live is the key to sustaining the strong Texas population, and it is not the only species of gar found in Texas. You will also find the longnose, spotted and shortnose gar in Texas’ waters.

this freshwater giant that makes its home in Texas is one of 20 fish species that were featured in the special exhibition, Monster Fish, which was at the Witte Museum from October 8, 2022 – January 22, 2023.

Witte Museum Members Magazine | Fall 2022 

Header photo courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department  •  Sources:,,