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FAQs on Gars, Family Lepisosteidae

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Gar compatibility          4/15/15
Hello WWM crew,
I have recently built my first monster (reasonable) fish tank. It is a 4' by 4' cube tank that is 1' tall. There is currently a 5 year old Shortnose gar and I would like to take down two other tanks. My question to you is, can my convicts (6) be housed with my pike cichlid with my gar?
<I have kept adult Convicts and a smaller Gar species together. Should stress: my Gar was relatively small (45 cm/18 inches or so) and never fed live food. He/she "waxed fat" as they say on strips of squid, salmon, tilapia fillet, and oddly enough Hikari Cichlid Gold. So he/she was probably a bit lazy and didn't really associate live fish with dinner, and instead got excited when it saw me, knowing an easy meal was not far behind. You're probably familiar with that begging behaviour Gar do when they're paddling about at the front of the tank looking at you. Anyway, this was also in a deep tank, 6' by 3' by 3', and the Convicts pretty much stayed among the rocks, out of harm's way, while the Gar had virtually all the top of the tank to itself. I didn't keep track of the Convicts, and since we bred them at the university anyway, they were just thrown into
that system as glorified decoration, but to the best of my memory, they seemed to thrive. However, your system is different in terms of depth, and the Gar and Convicts may interact a lot more (I'm not sure a 12" water depth is acceptable for Gar in the long run). The problem is that Gar are skittish and easy alarmed, and some cichlids throw their weight around a bit, alarming the Gar and causing it to inure itself. I'd be very leery of combining them without making sure the Gar had lots of space. Plus, if you have used feeder fish at all, then your Gar might not be so accommodating of tankmates. One of many, MANY reasons not to use feeder fish.>
Convicts are 5", pike cichlid 7", and a 19" gar.
<Which Pike Cichlid? Some Crenicichla species get huge, and become very aggressive. Others are smaller, and some have quite specific water chemistry (soft, acidic) needs. Not obvious companions for Convicts, let alone Gar.>
Filtration is a custom sump that does 1800 gallons of filtration per hour.
Thank you
<On balance, I wouldn't do this with the tank you have. The shape of the tank strikes me as wrong. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Gar compatibility      4/16/15

Thank you for your input. I live on the third floor of my building so I cant set up my large aquarium with out breaking through the floor.
<Probably best not to do that!>
Since the glass is still being made, should I decrease the length and width and increase the height?
<I'd not keep any tank buster in less than 45 cm/18 inches depth of water, and the more the better. 4 x 4 x 1 feet = 16 cubic feet = 120 US gallons.
That's a bit low for Gar, 200 US gallons would be a minimum, in my opinion.
Do bear in mind that Shortnose Gar will get to at least 60 cm/2 ft in length, and potentially quite a bit over that. Now, a 2 ft Gar could probably be kept in 150 US gallons, so assuming the sump on your tank adds 30, 40 or more US gallons, you may well be okay in terms of volume. But depth remains a concern for me.>
The pike cichlid is a Inirida pike cichlid. He is unusually tame and has been hand fed every since I got him 2 years ago. He was an impulse buy that I have grown to love.
<Indeed. I kept a pair of Pike Cichlids back in the late 80s/early90s, what back then were simply called Crenicichla saxatilis, so very similar to yours, and they were lovely. But there is a lot of variation within the genus. So it's as well to be sure what we're talking about before making sweeping generalisations.>
What are the exact problems that could go wrong with this tank? Would it be uncomfortable for the gar?
<Lack of depth. Even Angelfish are uncomfortable in tanks 12 inches deep, which by the time you add the gravel and leave space for the lights above, may have only 8-10 inches of actual water. Let's assume your tank has minimum substrate, just enough to cover the glass and block reflections, but not enough for plants, that'd still be, what, half an inch of gravel?
So maybe 11 inches of water. Not a lot for a fish the size of a Gar. Now, if the Gar was kept alone, this mightn't be too much of a big deal. But throw in some bottom dwelling fish -- and territorial ones at that -- and you've immediately got the problem that the Gar has to keep out of their "living space". It only takes one strongly territorial cichlid to spook a Gar, and the result will be shredded fins, cloudy eyes, broken snout, or worse.>
I have a similar tank which was for my reticulated stingray but when he passed I acquired the gar.
<Ah, but Stingrays are strongly associated with the substrate, and in fact live in quite shallow water throughout much of their range. So long as their backs are wet, they're not that fussed! Gar, by contrast, are surface dwellers that in the wild. For sure they dive down at times to feed on benthic fish and crabs (these latter a favourite food) but they need to stay close to the surface the rest of the time to gulp air.>
He has been in a 3' by 3' by 1' tall tank for about 5 years from when he was caught with some bait minnows on a fishing trip.
<Cool! I'm very jealous. Among my favourite fish, and while I got to watch some in the Florida mangroves, I've never had the chance to fish for them.>
He doesn't like the bottom of the tank and stays in front of the tank.
<Quite so. They do become very tame, and in their way, excellent pets.>
He was raised on quarantined goldfish that were gut loaded because he hasn't accepted anything else when he was little.
<I would get him off Goldfish as soon as practical. The nutritional profile of these is terrible. Thiaminase for a start, but also a lot of fat.
Goldfish do seem to cause real problems for predatory fish. If you must rear feeders, then livebearers (such as Mollies or Mosquitofish) would be a million times better, but mine loved oily fish like salmon, which you can hand-feed using long (really long!) forceps or bamboo skewers. Alongside seafood and white fish fillet, there's no need to feed live food to a Gar once outside of the "settling in" phase.>
He has been weaned onto pellet (Hikari Massivore and gold).
<Good chap! Mine even took those cheap catfish pellets. They're not fussy animals once they learn you're serving the meals.>
Would my pike cichlid kill him, be fine or be eaten?
<Gar generally ignore anything they can't swallow whole, so anything deep bodied or big should be safe. Mine cohabited with a Channel Cat, a Jaguar Cichlid, a Midas Cichlid, and an assortment of Convicts in a rocky Central American biotope tank. Pike Cichlids vary in temperament from the retiring to the psychotic, so a lot depends on the species and the specimen. If
yours behaves, and is clearly too large to be viewed as prey, you may be fine keeping them together. But I can't guarantee that.>
Thank you
<Most welcome. Neale.>
re: Gar compatibility      4/16/15

If needed the convicts can be taken out of the equation. It has been quite a while since my gar has last eaten a live fish. Probably around 2-3 years, maybe even 4. Thank you again
<Sounds promising. But the depth issue still worries me. More about the one mean male Convict alarming the Gar than the other way around. Cheers, Neale.>
re: Gar compatibility      4/16/15

Ok thank you
The convicts will be sexed out, males sold and females kept in a separate system. My pike cichlid was kept with a few convicts a while back and didn't care about them at all. They seemed to bully him! Females too. Is this a good indication of his temperament?
<Sort of. Have you come across "mobbing" behaviour in birds? There's some evidence cichlids will "mob" perceived predators as well. Crenicichla spp. are retiring stealth predators, and their shape absolutely screams "predator" to anything kept with them. There's the potential for prey species to react by mobbing your Pike Cichlids, essentially making the point to the Pike that they've seen him/her, and that sneaking up on them won't work because they're on the defensive. In the wild mobbed predators will usually move somewhere else, since stealth predators aren't going to get their dinner once their cover is blown! Cichlids are plenty smart enough for this sort of behaviour, though scientific studies are limited.
In any case, my point is that cichlid behaviour is complex, and while it may well be that your Pike is shy and retiring, he/she may be more territorial when not kept with pushy, defensive cichlids. I'd imagine Crenicichla of suitable size would get on fine witness small Gar, to be honest, since they're both stealthy and easily spooked, and the Pikes (at least, my Pikes) tend to hide away a lot if given the chance.>
Should I forget about tankmates all together and be fine with a single specimen tank? The sump is a 49 gallon with piranhas.
<Piranhas live in the sump? While that's pretty cool in its way: it does defeat the object of a sump, which is creating "un-used" water that dilutes dissolved nitrogenous wastes in the water. If the sump contains fish, it's not diluting waste, it's adding to it.>
I currently acquired 30 crayfish for a saltwater fish. Can my gar eat these or would he enjoy them?
<Probably worth a shot, though gut-load them first, because crustaceans contain Thiaminase.>
What time frame am i looking at for my gar to reach his full size.
<Some years, and depends massively on diet AND temperature. Sexually mature within a couple years, and probably as big as they'll get within 4-5 years.
But like all fish, they grow continuously, albeit at a much reduced rate after the first year or so, and often barely perceptibly after a few years.>
I have had him for 5 years and caught him when he was about 4".
<Wow! Never seen one that tiny. Any pics?>
His favorite past time is a bright red ball. He pushes all around his tank and enjoys his form of catch. (Shoving the ball onto the floor and demanding its return)
Thank your for your time and information
<Always happy to chat about Gars; alongside Snakeheads and Ctenolucius, my favourite of the predatory tropical fishes. Cheers, Neale.>
re: Gar compatibility... Just FW stkg.        4/18/15

I really appreciate the advice you have given me. I have moved apts to the first floor and now can have my bigger tanks. I have a question. I recently acquired a "stunted florida Shortnose gar". Found it on my door step in a bag that said cant keep it anymore, take care of it.
He looks to be a mid age gar probably 7+ years. He also came with a tank. 4' by 2' by 18". Is this going to be an appropriate tank for him?
<It's a bit small really. It's really hard to recommend Gar for tanks less than, say, 5 feet in length. If you say a tank should be at least twice as long as the length of its fish, then even the smaller Gar species need something around 5 or 6 feet in length once fully grown.>
I am unfamiliar with this species and am not sure what it actually is.
<Indeed. Nor am I.>
Looks like a Shortnose spotted cross.
<Could easily be. There are numerous hybrids out there.>
Pics are unavailable as I dropped it in my bichir tank to sell my platinum Senegal. Is this an actually species, trade name, a potential hybrid?
<Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) and Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) are different things, so a hybrid sounds likely from the name.>
Are there any snakehead species that stay small enough to be a potential tankmate?
<Because Snakeheads are illegal in many states in the US, they're not widely traded. To be clear: the good species are the "dwarfs" that get to about 8-12 inches. These are much fun to keep. But they'd be Gar dinners.
The bigger Snakeheads are generally far too aggressive and messy to make worthwhile pets, certainly in mixed species situations.>
Can you recommend a good tankmate that is bright in color and predatory?
<Depends a lot on what's on sale. The better tankmates for Gar are things like L-number cats, Bichirs and Stingrays that keep out of their way.>
I am assuming Arowanas are out of the picture but have really gotten into predator fish over the last few years.
<Gar and Arowana are not good combinations. They want the same top part of the tank, and Arowanas tend to be either aggressive about it or easily damaged if pressed, so best kept on their own or with benthic fish.>
The gar is currently 20 3/4" and is already on Massivore pellets with the occasional smelt and tilapia fillet. In this size tank , can my Shortnose gar (18") be a tankmate?
<Gar tend to cohabit well if raised together, but mixing dissimilar species in a small aquarium might be risky.>
Thank you
<Welcome. Neale.>
re: Gar compatibility       4/18/15

Would a tabapo red pike cichlids or Datnoides work?
<How big is this aquarium of yours again? It's barely big enough for a Gar.
Why are you wanted to add other stuff? Unless this tank is, say, 150-200 gallons in capacity, I wouldn't be keeping multiple Gar-sized fish in there. As stated in our multiple messages, in giant tanks (200+ gallons) Gar can cohabit with all sorts of predators and big fishes that stay close to the bottom. Stingrays, L-numbers, Pimelodids, (freshwater) Datnoides
spp., Bichirs... I kept mine with various Central American cichlids including a Jaguar Cichlid as well as a youngish Channel Catfish.>
I have several connections in and out of the country so I can get almost anything in. It is a part time business as last week I got 4 crocodiles (with permits and all legal papers of course) for a local zoo.
Can you recommended a few predator fish that would stay out of the way?
<See above.>
I have already kept numerous rays and looking for something new. Bichirs I have in my African set up and Plecos are and addiction I already am consumed by. My 23" sailfin loves to be scratched on his back.
<Sounds cute.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
re: Gar compatibility       4/18/15

Ok cool thanks.
Can my gulper catfish be a tankmate?
<Not wise. Recall me saying you don't want anything spooking your Gar? How well do you think a nocturnal predator that can consume prey twice their size is going to get long with your Gar? Correct answer, "not well at all".
Gulpers best kept alone.>
He is pretty lazy and doesn't move much
<None of them do.>
Thank you for all your help
<Cheers! Neale.>

Holy grail of fish stores/ Is it legal to sell these freshwater monsters.. State laws re larger fishes     8/24/13
I went to a fish store Tropaquatics. and man they had everything, tetras of various types/ cichlids of various types, monster catfish juveniles red tails/ another weird monster catfish species I don't know the name of, and what caught my eye- something I don't believe should be kept in tanks a true Gator gar. It was a cute little fish about a foot and a half long maybe a little bigger but I know it gets HUGE.
My question is it legal to sell a native tank buster fish like this.
<In Minnesota? As far as I know from a quick look at the Department of Natural Resources website, then it seems so. But I'm no expert at this. The safest thing is to contact the DNR. Among other things, they're the ones who handle licensing for pet and aquarium stores, so if you're concerned that your local aquarium store shouldn't be handling a certain species of
fish, and the owner/manager isn't able to satisfy your concerns, then the DNR would be a next logical step, here:
and i was wondering if i get the proper permits from the DNR.
<In most countries, as a rule of thumb if the fish is on sale, it's legal.
Or at the least, if there's an issue, the worst that will happen is the fish will be confiscated since you acted in good faith assuming the retailer was selling fish legally. Any legal proceedings will weigh upon the retailer since they're the ones that didn't do their job properly!>
could I buy and then release it back into the Mississippi where it belongs.
<Definitely not. Releasing a fish into the wild would allow it to carry pests and parasites into the natural environment. There's also a good chance the fish wouldn't belong there, and would either die very quickly (wrong food, wrong temperature, wrong water chemistry, etc.) or else would cause harm to existing native fish (eating them or their eggs, for example, or altering the habitat in some other way). There are countless examples of where this has been catastrophic, with European Carp being perhaps the most notorious.>
( Historically did alligator gar even live in MN/twin cities or is that further south? I don't want to put something into the river that doesn't belong there.)
<The Alligator Gar is a subtropical to warm temperate species, so is basically a fish of the southern United States. Odd specimens have been reported north, but they don't seem to be well established further north than the Carolinas.>
If I did get the permits to do this. Or do you think I could call a public aquarium to rescue it. I also feel bad about paying them cash for it because that'll just encourage them to buy another gar fish.
<Quite so. To be fair, not all "Alligator Gars" in the hobby are Atractosteus spatula; many are some other species or hybrid. But assuming this is what they say it is, yes, definitely leave it in the pet store. Not a practical fish for the hobbyist. If you want to call a local zoo or animal rescue, then that'd be worthwhile too.>
On the plus side they had warm water Cory cats 3 for 24.99 which I thought was a really sweet deal.
<Corydoras sterbai? Yes, a good deal for a nice catfish. Cheers, Neale.>

Feeding Florida Gars -- To Neale   12/31/08 Hi Neale-- We corresponded a couple of months ago about a 55 gone wrong. That tank is doing much better now (and I'll never rush cycling again), but during correspondence I mentioned that I QT'd minnows for my two florida gars. You advised that I switch them to frozen or prepared foods due to the icky nature of feeders. I took your advice to heart, and have gotten one of my gars to eat thawed silversides. However, the other one isn't taking to it. It's been about two weeks since he's eaten at all. I have tried the silversides, red worms, Massivore Delite, and thin strips of thawed whiting. I'm not sure if it makes a difference, but he only has one eye (that's how he was when I got him). He never had any trouble competing with the other one for live food, and always ate well. Now, though, it seems we have a problem. Do you have any other ideas as to foods I could try, or maybe the food needs to be soaked in something really stinky to make it irresistible, or something? Thanks so much for your help... and Lucky (the one-eyed gar) thanks you too! --Melinda <Hello Melinda. It's pretty uncommon for Lepisosteus spp. gar to reject non-feeder fish foods for so long. Usually they learn to take alternative foods pretty quickly, as your other specimen has done. Putting aside ethical questions, the main issue with feeder fish is their healthiness as a staple food item; if you *must* use them, then herbivorous livebearers such as Mollies gut-loaded with algae is the only safe approach. Otherwise, alternative live foods you could use include crickets, mealworms and especially earthworms (what I believe Americans sometimes call nightcrawlers). It's worth mentioning wild Gar feed extensively on crustaceans, particularly crabs, one of their major prey items when inhabiting brackish/saltwater habitats. So you might try things like large freshwater shrimp or crayfish. My specimens had a particular fondness for oily fish, particularly mackerel, but I'd not recommend using oily fish at any time except just before a large water change: oily fish will leave an oily scum on the water that takes a while to otherwise disperse. Hope this helps, Neale.>

Florida Gar and Pleco, comp., nutr. of Loricariids   7/24/08 Hi all-- I love your site, and have spent many hours reading in the last few months since I discovered it. However, I've had an issue come up that I have not been able to find an answer to. I have a seven-inch Florida Gar in a 125 gallon tank, with six larger-sized silver dollars and a Pleco. I am not sure of what type he is, but he is definitely not the "common type". He is brown, with a short, wide, compact body, about seven or eight inches long. <Do bear in mind some of these fish will get extremely large; Gar will exceed 60 cm and potentially 90 cm in captivity if they are among the common species traded, such as Lepisosteus platyrhincus, the species usually sold as the "Florida Gar".> Lately, we have noticed him interacting with the gar in a way we had not previously observed. He appears to be sucking on the gar. I know from reading your site and others that this is a bad, bad thing. <Has been reported between these species, and yes, is damaging to the Gar. When the skin is abraded, the mucous is lost and it becomes much easier for secondary infections to get started.> We chase him away and offer algae disks, which he goes for (lately, he's seemed overly ravenous, often eating four times the amount of disks that he used to). <People tend to underfeed Loricariidae. Understand this: they are constant grazers and mud sifters in the wild, and don't understand the "two meals per day" notion many aquarists prefer. You need to give them vegetable foods such as courgette, sweet potato or carrot that they can nibble on through the day, plus bogwood for fibre.> My question is this: is the Pleco suffering from some type of nutritional imbalance that we can remedy? <Likely not an imbalance, but quite probably not enough fibre, so that the fish feels hungry because it isn't full. These catfish are adapted to feeding on a bulky rather than concentrated diet.> If he's just being rude, and that's definitely possible, we can take him to the LFS. However, due to their lack of adequate space for larger fishes, and the fact that hideously overprice any fish that aren't tetras or mollies, therefore forcing the fish to be there in less than ideal conditions for a long period of time, I fear for his life. This would be a last resort. Please help! Thanks. --Melinda <Seemingly no simple answers here, but very likely these fish will need to be separated. Perhaps try offering a better (more vegetable-rich) diet, but if that doesn't help, you will need to rehome one or other fish. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: My Florida Gar and his Pleco Friend, comp., fdg. -- to Neale 8/9/08 Hi Neale-- Melinda here again. <Hello!> You responded to my email a few weeks ago regarding our Pleco (have since found out he is a rhino Pleco) and our Florida gar. <Hmm... Pterygoplichthys scrophus, rather a nice catfish! Not common in the trade, and I think quite a handsome beast.> The Pleco was getting a little too friendly with Fluffy (the gar), and seemed to be trying to snack on him. <Can happen; not commonly, but does happen.> You suggested feeding a variety of fiber-rich veggies, but predicted we'd eventually need to separate the two. Well, Dino (the Pleco) had no intentions of eating any of my tasty veggie offerings. In any case, we have separated them. <Let's see if this helps. If not, then back to the drawing board. I suppose you could try offering her some meaty food. My Panaque is ostensibly a vegetarian, but she enjoys raw mussels in the half shell, partially shelled shrimp and other such delicacies. You may be able to tempt your cat to eat these things instead of her tankmates...> Thank you for your advice. --Melinda <Good luck! Neale.>

Gar With Sores On His Head  - 09/07/06 I have a spotted gar that has developed some type of disease. It has white film and ulcers, deterioration, on it's head. I have been treating it with Maracyn-two. Following the directions for the 6 day treatment. Not much improvement. Since their skin is not the typical fish type, would this be the correct treatment? Also, by putting aquarium salt for freshwater fish in the tank harmful to him? Could this cause a problem. Thanks. < Gars are actually pretty tough critters. There could have been some damage to his head as he tried to jump out and now they got infected. I would try Nitrofuranace. It treats a wider range of parasites and it also has some antifungal properties. Salt wouldn't harm him unless it was an unusual amount. Do a 50% water change, vacuum the gravel and clean the filter. This medication may harm the good nitrifying bacteria so watch for ammonia spikes.-Chuck>

FW/BW Mis-mixes  - 03/26/2006 First off, I just wanted to say that I love your site and you all do a great job.  I was just wondering what you thought about the mixture of fish I have in my 90 gal tank.  I currently have 2 red devils, 1 Florida gar, <Neat fish... illegal in many States... get way big> 1 green terror, 1 tiger Oscar, a small Pleco, 1 figure eight puffer, and 1 dragon goby. <These last two... are increasingly brackish with age, size... should they live...>   The biggest so far is the red devil at about 7 in. <I'll bet! Some of these are really devils!> So far I have had the tank for about 4 months with no casualties. Everyone seems to be getting along swimmingly.  I am worried though that with this size tank there will not be enough room for all species when they reach their full potential. <To put this mildly> I have gotten so attached to them all I can't bare to let one go. (Unless it's for their own good.)   <You need at least two more tanks... and a lake if you're going to try raising the Lepisosteid> I do weekly water changes, vary their diet, etc.... and treat them all with the care they deserve.  What do ya think? Thanks - Steve, MI <A brackish tank, an easier going cichlid tank.... See WWM re these species systems, compatibility... Bob Fenner>

Gar fish I thought about what you said from the last e-mail and I just want to go with one gar fish. I just need some basic knowledge about them first. <Unfortunately I wasn't the person who had answered your previous email.  So, I'm not sure which Gar you are referring to.  There are many different species.  Just to be on the safe side I'll give you a run down on the typical ones found in the aquarium hobby. Gars appreciate the following water conditions: a pH between 7.0 to 8.0, slightly hard water, and temperatures between 70 to 80 ºF (23 ºC).> What size tank would I need? What should I feed it? What diseases should I look out for? <Short Nose Gar (Xenocara dolichopterus) grows to about 2 feet long in the aquarium, I've read that they are found as long as 4.5 feet in the wild.  so they need a tank that can accommodate a long fish.  They like the temperature of the tank to be 75-80 degrees.  They do fine in small schools and are not to difficult to care for. These are surface dwellers, and will only eat tankmates it can fit in it's mouth.  Other fish are said to be okay with it.  These are hard to get to eat anything but live foods. Alligator Gar (Lepisosteus sp.) These get to be very large (±8 feet).  I have seen these be as long as 15 inches in the home aquarium, and were still growing.  If you should go to any fishing website you will be amazed to see some of the monsters that people catch while fishing.  These need massive tanks when they are adults.  These will snack on fish in the tank unless they are as large as it is.  I have seen them with Large Oscars and Snake heads.  They seem to leave Plecos alone.  Alligator Gar are much more likely to eat frozen and prepared foods than others.  These are much easier to care for, the only problem is you need a large tank with nice filtration. Needle Nose Gar (Xenocara dolichopterus) These fish are the smaller Gars, and are readily found in the aquarium hobby.  These get 12 inches long when full grown so they need a smaller tank than their cousins.  These are surface dwellers and will feed on live foods such as guppies, They are harder to get to eat the dry foods but with persistence they are said to take krill.  They do well in groups and can be kept with fish of similar size.  They also like the warmer water conditions.> Anything else that you can throw in will be helpful too. Thanks <They are interesting fish, but not very active.  They often times are just floating near the surface waiting for food.  Good luck. -Magnus>

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