Caught on video: Watch the 'trash fish' of the American South vacuum up its prey | 4/16/2019 | Staff
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CT scan animation of how an alligator gar catches its prey. Credit: Justin B. Lemberg et al.

The alligator gar, a toothy, narrow-snouted fish that resembles its namesake reptile, is the largest, native, freshwater predator in North America. They live primarily in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and can grow up to 10 feet long and 300 pounds. Long considered "trash fish" by fisherman who often throw them back because they aren't worth the trouble, gars have a special place in the hearts of biologists who study the evolution of fish.

Charles - Darwin - Gars - Fossils - Bodies

Charles Darwin called gars "living fossils" because they have more or less the same bodies as their ancestors from the Cretaceous period more than 100 million years ago. Studying modern-day gars can offer many clues about how these ancient fish and their relatives lived. Now, a new study from the University of Chicago reveals fascinating details about how the gar feeds, both by snapping its powerful jaws and, surprisingly, using suction to vacuum its prey inside.

The research, published in the Journal of Morphology, uses high-speed videography to capture images of the gar's jaw as it catches prey. Justin Lemberg, a postdoctoral researcher at UChicago who led the study, then applied measurements taken from the video footage to a 3-D software model of the gar's skull to reconstruct the movements of its joints and bones.

Things - Features - Fossil - Record - Lemberg

"Having living things around that maintain all these ancient features helps us understand what's going on in the fossil record," Lemberg said. "If we can figure out what some of these features are being used for with the modern gar, maybe we can better interpret when those features pop up in other fossils."

Unlike humans, whose jaws open and close on a simple hinge, fish have complex skulls with multiple bones, joints and cartilage that slide, flex, and rotate to...
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