Four-Foot Alligator Gar Fish Caught in Kansas Is First Ever Recorded in State

An alligator gar, a large fish that is often referred to as a "living fossil," was recently caught in Kansas—the first time the species has been recorded in the state, wildlife officials said.

Angler Danny Smith caught a four-and-half-foot, 39.5-pound alligator gar specimen last month while fishing one night on the Neosho River, the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks (KDWP) said in a statement Tuesday.

The department said alligators are not native to Kansas and have never been officially documented in the state.

"When a lure drops below the water's surface, it's not always known what might rise to meet it. On a warm night late last month, one angler fishing the Neosho River east of Parsons caught something he probably never expected to see," KDWP said in the statement.

Alligator gars are among the largest fish in North America, commonly measuring around 6.5 feet in length. The largest-ever alligator gar on record measured around 10 feet, according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW.) The heaviest alligator gar ever recorded weighed 301 pounds.

The known range of the alligator gar, which is found in the Mississippi River basin, extends from southwestern Ohio, and southeastern Missouri and Illinois, to parts of the Gulf Coast and small portions of northeastern Mexico.

The fish has disappeared from much of its historic range as a result of habitat destruction and indiscriminate culling.

The name of the fish—a "voracious ambush predator," according to the USFW—refers to its distinctive alligator-like snout and sharp teeth.

Alligator gars are often referred to as "living fossils" because they can be traced back in the fossil record nearly 100 million years.

The living fossils are the largest gar fish—three species of which are native to Kansas: the longnose gar, shortnose gar and the spotted gar. The most common and largest gar species in the state is the longnose.

The latter can be distinguished from the alligator gar by their smaller overall size and narrow snout, among other characteristics.

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KDWP Fisheries biologists are now attempting to answer the question of where the alligator gar caught by Smith in the Neosho River came from.

"We're confident the information from the angler is accurate and the fish was, in fact, caught from the Neosho River," KDWP Fisheries biologist Connor Ossowski said in a statement. "However, that doesn't mean the fish originated from the river."

Biologists are now working to understand whether the fish came from an existing population in another state, or if it was introduced to Kansas by humans.

Officials say it would have been difficult for this fish to have reached Kansas naturally given that the nearest population is far away, as well as the fact that the river has a series of dams.

Among the plausible scenarios is that the alligator gar was released from an aquarium, KDWP officials said.

"It's not unlikely that this fish was once somebody's pet or purchased from a pet store, and simply released into the river once it became too large," Doug Nygren, KDWP Fisheries Division director, said in a statement.

Newsweek has contacted the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks for comment.

An alligator gar fish
Stock image showing an alligator gar. A four-and-half-foot, 39.5-pound alligator gar was caught in Kansas last month, according to officials. iStock