Printed November 19, 2019

Prehistoric fish lurks among us

Endangered Alligator Gar doing well in Brazoria County

By Janice Edwards/ The Bulletin

Most of us living in Brazoria County realize that the ground we walk on was also shared by historical Texas figures like Stephen F. Austin. But what you may not know is that in the many miles of the county’s waterways lurks a living fossil – the Alligator Gar.

Hubby Roy was fishing off our dock under the lights when a large, scaly, shadowy form began lurking around our dock.
It wasn’t a trout, flounder or redfish, but it was scarfing down all the bait fish that were drawing the desirable ones there. It was a nuisance that night, and not long ago, we’d consider it a “trash” fish.

But the alligator gar these days is endangered and has even been extirpated from many of the outer areas of its range. They are still pretty common in Brazoria County waterways, however.

The Alligator Gar, as well as other members of the family Lepisosteidae, are regarded as “prehistoric” fish, whose fossil records trace their roots to the Early Cretaceous period, more than 100 million years ago. Their body “design” created a survivor fish, which could flourish in harsh environments.

What makes these fish so ancient – and so successful? Their body components help them to endure. These features include:
In addition to a set of gills, the gar has a specialized swim bladder so that it can breathe both air and water. It can live in water with low oxygen levels that would kill other fish.

They have retained some of the morphological characteristics of their early ancestors like the spiral valve intestine similar to that in sharks (another prehistoric fish).

They have two rows of sharp teeth on the upper and lower jaws, which allow them to catch and hold prey.

The body is armored by impermeable interlocking inflexible diamond shaped scales with serrated edges made of a tough inner-bone layer and an outer layer of ganoin. (My friend, Kristin Shirley, even tanned the hide of a gar to make stunning knife sheaths.)

Their roe is toxic to humans.

So, when you’re fishing in the back bays on one of those steamy days when the fog moves in, beware, and be prepared to battle a monster because … dinosaurs are among us!

(Jan wants to hear from you. Write her in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)