Longnose gar, which can grow to three feet or more in length and live more than 20 years, look like swimming darts and get their name from their most obvious feature: a long, pointed snout that isn’t really so much a nose as a mouth. That long jaw is equipped with an impressive display of sharply pointed teeth, which not only help the gar enjoy its status as an apex predator, but also explain one of its more whimsical common names, “scissorlips.”
Besides its pointed front end, the other most notable feature of a gar is the hard scales, a virtual suit of armor, that cover its body. “Scales and jaw are really all gar is,” says Patrick McGrath of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The longnose gar’s scientific name, Lepisosteus osseus, roughly translates to “bony bony-scale,” which should give you an idea of what it’s like to try to get into a gar. Ever seen someone trying to work through sheet metal with a pair of heavy-duty tin snips? It’s something like that.
A few minutes with a fish scientist: Patrick McGrath talks about stomach contents, acoustic tagging, and his first encounter with a gar.