Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) are found in both Georgia and Florida in the southeastern United States. Their natural habitat consists of streams, river drainage ditches, lowland streams, canals and lakes. They prefer calmer waters with plenty of vegetation and floating sticks and other debris. Florida Gar are typically found in areas with shallow calm water, dense vegetation and sandy or muddy substrates, as this environment is ideal for ambushing prey.
Florida Gar are often confused with Spotted Gars, but are distinguishable from each other primarily by their snout length. The distance from the front of the eye to the back of the gill cover is less than 2/3 the length of the snout in the Florida Gar, while it is more than 2/3 of the length in the Spotted Gar. Also the Florida gar lacks bony scales on the throat area. The elongated snout with the nostrils located at the tip is an ideal adaption for the Florida Gar as it allows them to float motionless at the waters surface to mimic a stick floating in the water. Since they can breath with either their gills or a special lung like air bladder the gar can survive in hot, stagnant waters that might not have sufficient oxygen for most other species of fish.
Florida Gar will appreciate an aquarium with a habitat similar to their native habitat. Ideally the aquarium should have low to medium water currents, plenty of vegetation and a sand or mixed sand and gravel substrate. Lighting is not critical, but they will appreciate areas of the aquarium with filtered lighting either by floating plants or tree root. Young Florida Gar can be raised up in smaller tanks like a 55 or 75 gallon and then transferred to a larger aquarium as they grow. Adult specimens living in an aquarium will reach somewhere between 24 to 36 inches in length, which means that a 180 gallon aquarium should be considered an absolute minimum tank size for this species. Ideally they should be kept in an aquarium somewhere between 300 to 450 gallons with a wide long foot print and shallow depth.
The Florida Gar is not aggressive towards other large fish that it does not see as food, thus their tank mates should consist of other large fish species with a peaceful to semi-aggressive temperament. Florida Gar will most often not fair well in aquariums with very large aggressive Cichlid species like Peacock Bass, Flowerhorns or Managuense as they cannot compete with these ultra aggressive fast swimming species.
In the wild young Florida Gar feed mostly on insect larvae and small fish, while adults prey on fish, crustaceans and larger insects. Florida Gar are ambush predators that will float silently near the water surface disguised as a stick or log waiting for unsuspecting prey to get too close and then they snap their head sideways and grab the prey with their sharp teeth. They will need to be fed a variety of meaty foods like fish, prawn, shrimp or crickets in the home aquarium. Hobbyists may find that it takes some time before this ambush predator will adjust to aquarium feedings, but they have strong appetites and with a little persistence should be able to adjust to aquarium life. Florida Gar have strong appetites and grow quickly; therefore, their growth rate and food intake should be monitored closely at first in order to determine the ideal amount of food and feeding frequency to keep them healthy and control their growth. A good starting point would be to feed them 2 to 3 small meals 6 days a week, while monitoring their overall girth until a feeding regime can be established.
Florida gar spawn mostly during the months of April and May, but spawning occasionally lasts into the late summer months. The female spawns by distributing her adhesive eggs in shallow pools, weedy backwaters, or shallow areas near the bank river bank. The eggs are greenish-colored and are fertilized by two or more attending males. The newly hatched larva has an adhesive disc on the front of the blunt snout, which it uses to attach itself to gravel or vegetation. The larva remains attached until reaching an approximate length of about 1 inch. As a juvenile, the gar has a fragile fin that extends along the upper edge of the tail and vibrates constantly. The fin is lost during the first year of life. The young grow rapidly feeding on zooplankton and tiny crustaceans that they find in the substrate near the waters edge.