Plants and Animals

Lepisosteus oculatus Spotted gar

Key Characteristics

Gars are a group of primitive fish that are easily recognized by their slender, long bodies, with long beak mouths and many prominent teeth. Their bodies are bony and hard, and the dorsal and anal fins are opposite each other near the tail. As the name suggests, the spotted gar has many dark spots on its body, head and fins. The body is a deep olive-green to brown color above, and yellowish or whitish below. It has 53 to 59 lateral line scales and 45 to 54 predorsal scales.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S2S3 - Rank is uncertain, ranging from imperiled to vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 10 2015
Barry 5 2018
Benzie 1 2014
Berrien 3 1990
Branch 15 2016
Calhoun 1 1863
Cass 12 2017
Emmet 1 2009
Hillsdale 8 2018
Ionia 2 1978
Jackson 8 2018
Kalamazoo 9 2022
Kent 1 1988
Lenawee 1 2001
Montcalm 1 1989
Muskegon 1 1956
Newaygo 1 1953
Ottawa 1 2019
St. Joseph 11 2017
Van Buren 10 2013
Washtenaw 2 1997
Wayne 1 2007

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The spotted gar requires clear, quiet water with abundant aquatic vegetation. It occurs in backwater areas of rivers, lakes and wetlands. Like other gar species, it is tolerant of warm water with low dissolved oxygen levels. They spawn in shallow, warm water.

Specific Habitat Needs

Macrophytes needed in: Inland lake, littoral, midwater; Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), pool.

Natural Community Types

  • Inland lake, littoral, midwater
  • Mainstem stream (3rd-4th order), pool

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

The spotted gar requires clear vegetated waters. These habitats are rapidly disappearing in its range. Siltation, dredging, filling and harbor improvements negatively impact this species.

Active Period

Spawning from fourth week of April to first week of June

Survey Methods


Survey Period: From first week of April to fourth week of September


Survey Period: From first week of April to fourth week of September


Survey References

  • Murphy, B.R. and D.W. Willis, eds. 1996. Fisheries Techniques, 2nd ed. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda. 732pp.

Technical References

  • Bailey, R.M., W.C. Latta, and G.R. Smith. 2004. An Atlas of Michigan Fishes. Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, No. 192, Ann Arbor. 215p.
  • Carman, S.M. 2002. Special Animal Abstract for Lepisosteus oculatus (Spotted gar). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 3pp.
  • Page, L. M. and B.M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432pp.
  • Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater fishes of Canada. Bulletin 184, Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Ottawa. 966pp.
  • Trautman, M.B. 1981. The Fishes of Ohio. Ohio State University Press, Columbus. 782pp.