Florida Gar 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) is a medium-sized Gar-type fish. They are carnivorous and very aggressive fish that require large volume aquariums. These types of fish are called Gar because they resemble alligators, with their flat mouths and eyes on top of their heads. 

Florida Gar
Florida Gar, Brian.gratwicke on English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Species Summary

A widely distributed species within the southeastern United States, Florida Gar is a freshwater Gar species belonging to the Lepisosteidae family. They are mainly found in streams, river drainage ditches, lowland streams, canals, and lakes with calm waters and with the presence of marginal and shallow vegetation. The species also occurs in different substrate types, from sandy to muddy, which helps with its ambush hunting. 

Even being a medium-sized gar, these fish reach a large size, reaching 9.6 pounds in weight, making it a “monster fish,” which can inhabit large-volume aquariums or lakes. A species well sought after by keepers of large fish species, they are relatively rare in domestic aquariums but are an excellent species for beginners in this field of the aquarium hobby. 

Overall, Florida Gar is a highly resistant fish with relatively peaceful behavior, making it an excellent choice for aquarists looking to get started in the monster fish world.

Care Guide

These fish are very adaptable and can live in community aquariums with other fish without too many problems. Like some other monster fish, Florida Gar should be kept along with other large fish species, with a temperament similar to theirs – peaceful to semi-aggressive.

When adequately cared for, Florida Gar is a stunning fish, but they will show their best colors when given a balanced diet and in a proper aquarium.

It is a resistant and easy-to-care fish, but that does not preclude knowing the species, habits, and behaviors in-depth. Like any other species, Florida Gar has its peculiarities, addressed and detailed in the following topics.

Tank Size

Florida Gar is a slow swimming species and not very active, but it is a relatively large aquarium fish. Therefore, they must inhabit large aquariums above 180 gallons, with dimensions starting at 74″ x 24″ x 24″. This size accommodates a specimen well, always remembering that the more space available, the better the welfare of the fish.

Tankmates

Being a carnivorous fish species, with a large size, and very aggressive behavior, it will be difficult to keep them with other fish. If you still want to give it a try, have a very large tank with fast-swimming species and plenty of hiding places.

As they are relatively peaceful fish and that they coexist without problems with other fish of another species and of similar size and behavior, they can live with countless other fish species in a large aquarium or community lake.

Avoid overly aggressive and larger species that could harm the Florida gar or that will compete directly for food. Likewise, avoid smaller species that are sure to become food for the gar.

Same Species Tanks

Due to its aggressive behavior towards fish of the same species, combined with its large size, the species is usually kept solitary in the aquarium. There are rare reports of a few aquarists who managed to keep the species in groups in aquariums and huge ponds. Still, even in a stabilized group and huge tanks, aggressions leading to the death of individuals occur regularly.

It is a great species to be kept alone in a large and well-decorated aquarium, pet fish style.

Water Parameters

They are incredibly resistant fish, which support a safe wide range of parameters.

This Gar can live with outstanding quality in different parameters. The perfect temperature for its maintenance is from 68 to 84 F. The ideal pH range is between 6.5 to 7.8 and hardness from 8 to 20°H.

Due to the wide variety of water conditions between the rainy and dry seasons in its natural waters, it is highly adaptable to numerous types of water and food. It is a highly suitable fish for beginner aquarists due to its rusticity.

This difference between hardness and pH is related to the region of origin of the specimen and demonstrates the variation in parameters during the dry and rainy seasons.

What to Put in Their Tank

As for any other aquatic animal, an aquarium heater and a filtering system are essential to keep the tank with Florida Gar healthy. The filtration system should be well dimensioned without creating a solid flow in the water.

The ideal is to try to represent the natural habitat of the species. 

Although it’s not a very active species, you should leave an open space for swimming given its large size. 

For the Florida Gar, the aquarium’s decoration is not critical to guarantee the success in the maintenance of the species. 

They can thrive in virtually every type of tank and assembly. They show a preference for an aquarium planted with a soft substrate – such as sand – for support and with low light.

Common Diseases

They are highly resistant to disease and poor water quality. Keeping the quality of the water and the pond always in excellent condition and good quality food, your fish should not present any problems.

The most common reports in these fish are diseases related to rectal prolapse, which are secondary symptoms of possible infections in the intestinal tract due to poor food quality and filtration.

It is common to observe cases of calcium deficiency, which causes deformities in the animal’s development; difficulties in swimming are also reported, where it tends to stay permanently on the surface.

Food and Diet

This species, like other Gars, is a carnivore that feeds on fish, crustaceans, insects, and virtually anything that fits in its mouth.

When juveniles, their primary diet is based mainly on small invertebrates and fish in their natural environment when actively hunting. Adult fish hunt by ambush, floating like a log or waiting next to the substrate for a fish, bird, crustacean, or anything else to pass in front of them. 

This fish can have difficulties eating commercial foods in aquariums, so the aquarist must have patience and persistence during the transition. Dry, live, and fresh foods such as crickets, bloodworms, small fish, shrimp, and others are highly beneficial to fish and should be offered regularly.

Providing a varied and balanced diet is essential for achieving its full potential. Generally, these fish do not have problems feeding and overgrowing when fed correctly.

Lifespan

In an aquarium with all the correct parameters kept stable and with an ideal diet, this fish can live for 10 to 30 years.

In nature, these animals are prone to live less, as they are predisposed to diseases, attacks from other animals, and environmental causes.

Appearance

This species has a strong, rigid body with rigid scales. It has an elongated, cylindrical body and a beak-shaped mandible, resembling an alligator’s mouth, showing visible teeth. They have medium fins, rounded in front, and rectangular on the dorsal and anal fins.

The color is greenish-gray, with black spots along the body, which may be aberrant or circular and oval. One of the points that draw attention to this species is its round eyes with almost no movement.

Size

In aquariums, Florida Garfish can easily grow to 36 inches in length when well cared for and fed, but more commonly you’ll see anything from 24 to 30 inches.

Behavior and Temperament

The Florida Gar is a very aggressive fish with its own species and a calm temperament with other types of fish. Being a robust fish, it can quickly kill other fish, in particular its beak-shaped mandible is used to tear pieces of other animals.

They are calm swimming animals and slow-moving. Most of the time, the fish can be seen standing, hunting, floating on the surface, or next to rocks waiting for some unsuspecting prey to pass in front of it.

Breeding

Their breeding period is April to May in the wild. Captive breeding doesn’t occur very often, and one of the reasons is the difficulty of keeping more than one fish in the same tank, along with the large size of the broodstocks and the problem of sexing them correctly. However, even being a fish with difficult reproduction, we do find reports of success in its reproduction. Commercially speaking, these are still under-produced fish, usually using hormones to induce eggs.

It is an oviparous species, reaching sexual maturity from 4 to 6 years of life. The female, when ready, will lay its sticky eggs somewhere close to the substrate, where different males will fertilize them. Parents do not exhibit any parental care.

Gender Differences: Male vs. Female

There is no apparent sexual dimorphism, so it will only be possible to define the sex of the fish moments before laying the eggs. Some fishkeepers claim that females are rounder than males.

Florida Gar Fun Facts

Florida Gar has a strong appetite and grows quickly to approximately 10 inches in size; therefore, the keeper should monitor the growth rate and food intake; in this way, we can determine the ideal amount of food and food frequency to keep them healthy control their growth.

Before reaching the peak of their rapid growth, they are very fragile and can even injure themselves when frightened.

Some adult gars are still seen feeding on insects, but they are certainly in very opportunistic situations.

When young, the gar has a fragile fin that extends along the top of the tail and vibrates constantly. The fin is lost during the first year of life.

The newly hatched larva has an adhesive disk in front of the blunt snout, which it uses to attach itself to gravel or vegetation.

Just as members of the Anabantidae family breathe atmospheric air, they are less affected by ammonia and can withstand relatively polluted water.

The Florida gar is part of an ancestral lineage of gars that dates over 100 million years. It retains many “primitive” physical characteristics, including a swim bladder that functions like a lung, allowing it to breathe air in low-oxygen environments. 

During the dry season, Florida gar burrows into the marsh sediment they inhabit and store during the dry season. Stimulation, similar to hibernation in other species, lowers the animal’s metabolic rate. This allows it to withstand its habitats’ high temperatures and dry conditions during the summer.

Larvae present a curious means of defense against hungry predators; the eggs are highly toxic.

References

Froese, R.; Pauly, D. (2017). “Lepisosteidae”.

NatureServe (2013). “Lepisosteus platyrhincus“. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2013: e.T202412A18234213. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T202412A18234213.en

Orlando, Edward; Binczik, Gerald; Thomas, Peter; Guillette, Louis (2003). “Reproductive seasonality of the male Florida gar, Lepisosteus platyrhincus”. General and Comparative Endocrinology. 131 (3): 365–371. doi:10.1016/S0016-6480(03)00036-4. PMID 12714019

Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea and W.B. Scott, 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. Am. Fish. Soc. Spec. Publ. (20):183 p. 

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