The alligator gar might be uglier than the native longnose gar. It sure is a lot bigger. And it's put a big scare into state wildlife managers.
A bow angler reportedly shot an alligator gar this month on Lake Wateree. The fish was 4 feet long, weighed in at 27 pounds, and that was nothing. An alligator gar can grow as long as 10 feet and weigh 200 pounds, about the size and shape of the toothy reptile it closely resembles. It's native to the Midwest; the lake north of Columbia is the farthest east it's ever been documented.
That almost certainly means somebody put it there.
The gar now joins a freshwater ecosystem full of invasive species -- snails, crawfish, perch, Amazonian pacu and smallmouth buffalo fish -- that are gobbling up space and food, and driving out native species. All of them were brought into South Carolina by someone as an aquarium pet, or an ill-advised attempt to supplement local game
"Just one more complication to our ecosystem," said Scott Lamprecht, S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist. "It just creates an ecological disaster."
It's as easy as mail order, Lamprecht said. A 10-inch-long alligator gar can be purchased online for $700, live delivery guaranteed. The surface- loitering fish are a prize kill for some bowfishers in the Mississippi Delta because they are big, thrash like an alligator and are enough of a novelty if not a delicacy in some restaurants.
The native longnose gar found in coastal rivers can grow only about 5 feet long and weigh not much more than 20 pounds, according to a DNR website. It's a skinny fish that looks as much like an eel as an alligator. It's roe is poisonous and it's rarely hunted for food.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.