Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Spotted Gar - Lepisosteus oculatus

(This page was last updated - 06/28/2007)

Scientific name: Lepisosteus oculatus (Lepid "scale", osteus "bony", oculatus "eyed" in reference to the spots )

Common name: spotted gar

spotted gar
A Fort Loudoun Reservoir spotted gar - photo by Jim Negus

Species Overview

The spotted gar is one of four species of gar found in Tennessee. They are relatively common in large rivers and reservoirs throughout the state and in the Mississippi River basin, Gulf Coast drainages, and southern Great Lakes.

The Tennessee state angling record taken from Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge in 1999 weighed a little over 9 pounds. A 10 pound spotted gar taken by archery from Kentucky Reservoir in 1996 holds the non-sportfishing record.


young spotted gar
A young Melton Hill Reservoir spotted gar - photo by Jim Negus


All gars have torpedo-shaped bodies with the dorsal and anal fins located far back towards the tail. They are covered by thick ganoid scales that create a very hard protective covering.

The snout of a spotted gar is very similar in shape to that of a shortnose gar. A spotted gar's snout will have irregular blotches on the top and sides. These spots are absent from the snouts of shortnose gar and there are no records of shortnose gar in East Tennessee.

The snouts of spotted and shortnose gar are not as broad as the snout of an alligator gar, and very dissimilar to the long, thin snouts of longnose gar. The minimum width of an alligator gar's snout will be contained 4.5 or fewer times in the snout length while that of other gars will be 5 or more times.

Alligator gar have two rows of "canine like" teeth on the upper jaw while other gars usually have only one row. Some shortnose gar will have a second row of short, prickly teeth on the upper jaw.


spotted gar snout
The snout characteristic of a Tellico Reservoir spotted gar - photo by Jim Negus


Gars have a duct that connects their throat to a highly vascularized swim bladder that acts like a lung. This allows them to withstand very low oxygen levels. They are commonly observed gulping air at the surface on calm days.

Young spotted gar feed on small crustaceans and insects, but quickly switch over to a diet of primarily fish. They are ambush predators and lie still in the water until an unsuspecting fish swims by. They lunge forward and lash their heads from side to side in order to capture prey. All four of Tennessee's gar spend much of the time lying still or swimming slowly near the surface.

Life Cycle

Spawning usually takes place in shallow water during the spring. Gar eggs are poisonous to humans.

Newly hatched gars have an adhesive disc on the underside of the snout which they use to attach to objects on the bottom until the yolk sac is absorbed. A dorsal caudal filament at the posterior end of their upturned vertebral column disappears when they mature.


spotted gar
A Tellico Reservoir spotted gar - photo by Jim Negus


Etnier, D. and W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press.