How long can fish live?

Live fast, die young…OR live four centuries??!! The latest from The Fisheries Blog with artwork by Hannah Dean!

The Fisheries Blog

By Abigail Lynch

img_20160428_0002 Artwork by The Fisheries Blog Artist, Hannah Dean.

Fish are the most diverse group of vertebrates on earth – almost 28,000 species — more than half of all living vertebrate species.  So, perhaps, it isn’t surprising that fish have the record for both the shortest and longest vertebrate lifespan.  While a pet Goldfish (Carassius auratus) has a typical lifespan of 6-7 years, they have been reported to live as long as 30 years (Lorenzoni et al. 2007).  Still your average aquarium fish cannot compare to these short-lived and long-lived species!


The record for shortest recorded vertebrate lifespan goes to the Coral Reef Pygmy Goby (Eviota sigillata).  This little Indo-West Pacific reef fish, less than an inch long, has a lifetime which isn’t much longer.  It spends three weeks as larvae, quickly metamorphoses within one to two weeks, and settles…

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The 7 Wonderful Gar of the World

We had the privilege of writing a guest post on gars for the FINtastic Fisheries Blog; and check out the awesome GARtwork by Hannah Dean!

The Fisheries Blog

“As useless and destructive in our productive waters as wolves and foxes formerly were in our pastures and poultry yards”
~Forbes & Richardson, 1920

The 7 gar (Lepisostidae) species of the world. (Hannah Dean) The 7 gar (Lepisosteidae) species of the world. Find prints of this Gartwork at Hannah Dean‘s website.

“Overall, they look less like a fish than a medieval dart”
~Lawrence Payne, 2016
“They’re like an alligator with fins instead of legs”
~Solomon David, describing a gar to just about anyone.
With descriptions like these, is it any surprise that gars (Lepisosteidae) aren’t the most popular fishes “in the sea?” Did I mention they’re armored with enamel-like scales and have jaws full of sharp teeth…and they can breathe air? What’s not to like?
While basic gar morphology hasn’t changed much since the Cretaceous period, our perceptions of gars have started to evolve over the past few decades. These once-hated fish are garnering an improved…

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Ancient Fishes Symposium Schedule at American Fisheries Society!

Ancient Fishes Symposium

Here’s the schedule for the Ancient Fishes Symposium at the 2016 American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting in Kansas City! We will provide updates accordingly. For those of you not attending, you can follow the symposium on Twitter with the hashtag #AncientSportFish! We’ll follow up with recap posts in the future; if you have any questions, email

Monday, August 22, 2016

Conservation of Ancient Fishes, and that “Alligator Gar vs. Asian Carp” question…

MOD - Shedd NatGeo - ALG - SRD TWITTER

Alligator Gars (Atractosteus spatula) have been getting a lot of attention in the media recently, from headlines that they are “a weapon against Asian Carp” to the hunt for a single gator gar in small-town New York to “they’re not weapons against Asian Carp.”

We had the opportunity to provide insight and additional background information on the Illinois Alligator Gar Reintroduction, conservation of ancient fishes, and what current science suggests regarding Asian Carp control. Please read and share, more to come!

Angling for Dinosaurs!

We are planning a new symposium focusing on the ecology, conservation, and management of Holostean Fishes (Gars and Bowfin) for the 2016 American Fisheries Society conference in Kansas City, Missouri! Please share with those who may be interested, and see contact info below if you have questions/comments. More information coming soon!

Gar Bowfin Bass Banner 1a

Angling for Dinosaurs: Status and Future Study of the Ecology, Conservation and Management of Ancient Fishes

A special symposium is planned for the 146th annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society in Kansas City, Missouri in August 2016.  This symposium will focus on the biology, ecology, life history, conservation and management of Holostean Fishes (Bowfin and gar species). As anglers’ perceptions of these ancient fishes begin to transform from “rough fish” to “sport fish,” the need for a better understanding of the ecology and conservation status of these species is fundamental to effective management. We intend to highlight past and current research by including presentations related to:

  • Biology/ecology/life history
  • Age and growth evaluations
  • Population genetics & evolutionary perspectives
  • Sampling methodologies
  • Management evaluations
  • Hybridization
  • Human dimensions

If you manage or are conducting research related to Holostean fisheries, please consider participating in this special symposium. The organizers are planning some type of proceedings or special journal issue where presenters can publish their work if they wish, but the final decision will be based on input from participants.  If you have information you’d like to share that would advance our understanding of Ancient Fishes, please contact the organizers for more information.

The organizers are also seeking potential sponsors for this event.  If you or your organization is interested in sponsoring the symposium, please contact the organizers.


Dr. Solomon R. David1,3, Sarah Huck2,4, Dr. Jeffrey A. Stein2,4

1Shedd Aquarium
2Illinois Natural History Survey
3U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center
4University of Illinois

PDF of announcement: AFS 2016 – Gar Bowfin Symposium Announcement FINAL

Follow @PrimitiveFishes & @SFEL_Stein for more updates and information!

GAR of Thrones: Winter Is Coming

CGS - Winter Is Coming - Banner

“Adaptations by a Fish in the North”

Check out our latest post for The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog, featuring conservation ecology research on the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)! Links to the original research papers included!

GAR WARS! Conserve Native Biodiversity! Join the discussion 7/8/2015 Noon EST

There’s been a lot of recent discussion regarding bowfin, gars, and other “rough fish” in the context of bowfishing (often wasteful harvest of native species), management (regulated harvest), and conservation. All three of these activities need not exist in conflict with each other (except wasteful harvest). We are raising awareness as to the value of these species in some cases, but there’s still much work to be done!

With conservation and managed harvest (including bowfishing) in mind, we are pleased to bring you the  “Gar Wars” Twitter chat via The Nature Conservancy! We invite ALL interested individuals, groups, etc to join the discussion on July 8, at noon EST.

Please share with others who may be interested, and we hope to further raise awareness as to the conservation value of these oft-maligned ancient native species!

Perpetuating the Myth of “Trash Fish” and Wasteful Killing of Native Species

Photo Credit: Matt Nager/Outdoor Life Magazine

Photo Credit: Matt Nager/Outdoor Life Magazine

We will comment further soon, but in short, Outdoor Life Magazine has posted a recent article on a bowfishing tournament. The story exemplifies a continuing systemic problem of wasteful killing and eradication of native species such as gar, buffalo, and bowfin. Using bowfishing to remove invasive carps is one thing, or if bowfishers are eating the native fishes they shoot (there’s no catch-and-release in bowfishing), more power to them. But wasteful killing of native species, often top predators and important components of native food webs and ecosystems, is unnecessary and unacceptable. Take a look at all the photos; if these were piles of dead bass, trout, walleye or muskie, there would be an outrage. Not the same for gar, bowfin, and suckers.

It’s unfortunately legal (and often encouraged) in many areas, as there is money to be made. If you’d like to see a change, please contact your state’s Department of Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Office, and/or other conservation agencies. More to come.


WARNING: GRAPHIC (but educational) – A throwback to our research on Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) ecology in 2011, here’s an impromptu video on sex determination of the species.

In order to better understand species’ population and life history characteristics (and inform conservation and management), we need to know its size and age structure, as well as variation of that structure between males and females. In general, the sex of gars cannot be determined externally, therefore a population sample is dissected for internal examination. We used other structures of the fish (otoliths, rays, bones, etc) for additional analyses.

Ferrara & Irwin 2001
A Standardized Procedure for Internal Sex Identification in Lepisosteidae

David 2012
Life history, growth, and genetic diversity of the spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) from peripheral and core populations

First Gar-Spotting in the Second City

Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologist Frank Jakubicek holds up the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) specimen found in the North Branch Channel of the Chicago River in September 2014

Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) biologist Frank Jakubicek holds up the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) specimen found in the North Branch Channel of the Chicago River in September 2014. Photo by IDNR (used with permission).

Earlier this fall (September 2014) during a routine survey on the lookout for Asian carp (Bighead and Silver Carps), Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologists instead found a Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in the North Branch Channel of the Chicago River. This marked the first finding of the species in the Chicago Area Waterways System (CAWS), and northwestern-most occurrence of the species in Illinois (and the Great Lakes region).

As you can imagine, we were quite excited to get involved and expound upon the implications of this find! In preparation for an upcoming more detailed commentary and new entries (finally!), we are posting some links to the media accounts of the find, as well as the National Geographic blog by Primitive Fishes author Solomon David. More to come!

DNAinfo Chicago:
Spotted Gar Discovered for the First Time in Chicago Waters

Chicago Tribune:
Primitive fish found for first time in Chicago waterway

Chicago Sun-Times:
Could lone spotted gar be a harbinger of clearer water?
Voices | More spotted gar info

CBS Chicago WBBM Radio:
Biologists Find Spotted Gar for First Time in Chicago Area Waterways

National Geographic Newswatch:
Gar Spotted in the Windy City: First Occurrence of the Primitive Fish