PRATT, Kan. (WIBW) – A Kansas fisherman pulled out a single catch from the Neosho River – a Gar alligator, which has never been documented in the state before.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks said a Kansas fisherman caught a 4.5-foot, 39.5-pound Gar alligator while fishing in the Neosho River east of Parsons. This is the first time that a fish of this type has been documented in the state of Kansas.
While not always common, the KDWP said the Gar alligator is found in southwestern Ohio and southeastern Missouri and Illinois, southern Gulf of Mexico and across a small part of northeastern Mexico. They are predatory fish sometimes called “living fossils” because of the fossil record dating back almost 100 million years.
As the name suggests, KDWP said the Alligator Gar can be easily identified by its broad muzzle which vaguely resembles the American Alligator. They are the largest species of gar with specimens weighing over 300 pounds and measuring over 8 feet long.
The department said only three species of guys are native to Kansas: the long roach, the short roach, and the spotted roach. Longnose Gar is the state’s most common and largest species of the sunflower, with a muzzle smaller than that of the alligator and reaching a length of over 5 feet.
So the KDWP said its fisheries biologists must be asking, “What is a gar alligator doing in the Neosho River?” “
“We are confident that the fisherman’s information is correct and that the fish were in fact caught from the Neosho River,” said KDWP fisheries biologist Connor Ossowski. “However, that doesn’t mean the fish originated from the river.”
To find where the fish came from, the KDWP said biologists have several unique options.
Since all states participating in the Gar alligator reintroduction efforts tag every hatchery-produced fish, the KDWP said staff can research the tag. After using a wand to find identifying markers, he said staff were confident this capture was not part of a formal reintroduction effort.
“Because most populations of this species can be distinguished from each other with a sample of the fish’s fins, another option we are considering is genetic identification,” said Jeff Koch, deputy director of fisheries research at the. KDWP. “This will tell us if the fish is from an existing population in another state.”
If genetic testing doesn’t give reliable results, the KDWP said biologists still have one more option.
“Microchemistry is another technique available to us,” Koch added.
KDWP said microchemistry is done by measuring the elemental proportion of bone on a gish and comparing it to the elemental concentration of a surrounding body of water. If there are any matches, he said the data could help biologists find at least how long the fish have been in the Neosho River.
KDWP said it believed the fish in question could have been released from an aquarium.
“It’s not unlikely that this fish was once someone’s pet or bought from a pet store, and just released into the river once it got too big,” said Doug Nygren, Director of the KDWP Fisheries Division. “These techniques should allow us to determine what mode of introduction has occurred.
The KDWP said time will tell if the Neosho River Alligator Gar naturally made it to Kansas or had any help. While it would be very difficult for the fish to reach the state naturally due to the distance to the nearest population and the series of dams along the way, biologists said they would not jump conclusions, but instead rely on verifiable data from proven research methods.
Once the research is complete, the KDWP said biologists will post the results on its website and the Kansas Division of Fisheries Facebook page.
In the meantime, the ministry said it is important to remember that the transport and release of fish or other species in public waters, whether native or not, is illegal.
“Transporting and releasing fish may spread other harmful species such as microscopic zebra mussels, fish diseases or aquatic vegetation that may be present in the water used to transport fish”, warned Chris Steffen, coordinator of the KDWP Aquatic Nuisance Species.
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