Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/15

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5
GAR-PIKES, OLD AND YOUNG.

osseus, has since been subdivided by some authors into Lepidosteus, Cylindrosteus, and Litholepis, or Atractosteus; and nearly forty specific names have been applied. One of these, Sarchirus, merely denotes the lobed state of the pectoral fin of the young gar (as will be shown further on), and most of the others seem to be based upon individual or geographical variations. Much more remains to be learned before the exact number of species can be ascertained; meantime, we may safely admit the three following:

L. osseus, the bony gar, having a long and narrow snout, and rarely attaining five feet in length; L. platystomus, the short-nosed gar, with a short and broad snout, as the name implies; and L. adamantinus, the alligator-gar or diamond-gar, with a short and wide snout, but attaining a greater size than the other two, and more common in the southern part of the Mississippi Valley. Probably the careful comparison of many individuals will oblige us to admit one or two additional species.

Notwithstanding, however, the peculiarities by which several of the species of Lepidosteus may be distinguished, so many and so obvious are the features which unite them together, and separate them from all other fishes, that they are recognized by all as belonging together, just as are the catfishes, the suckers, or the sturgeons.

Moreover, their internal structure, so far as it has been ascertained, presents a remarkable uniformity, whence we may infer that there is no important difference in their functions or habits, excepting in so far as may depend upon their circumstances, their food, etc. It is desirable to ascertain the extent of this variation, by accurate observation of carefully-determined examples, but on the present occasion we must be content, although unwillingly, with the assumption that what one gar has done another gar can do.[1]

Like most other New England zoölogists, the writer had been long obliged to content himself with dead gar-pikes, and with the somewhat unsatisfactory figures and descriptions which occur in a few zoölogical works. He had gained some more vivid impressions from the words and blackboard sketches of him who regarded "the establishment of the order of Ganoids as the most important advance which he had brought about in ichthyology."[2]

But even these privileges only increased the desire to behold the gar alive and active, and to realize the delight expressed by the great teacher when first enabled to observe them upon his journey to Lake Superior.

  1. Unwillingly, because all such assumptions are very undesirable. There have proved to be exceptions to nearly all general rules, whether of structure or of functions, as is shown in a paper by the writer, entitled "Is Nature inconsistent?"—(The Galaxy, April, 1876.)
  2. Although most other zoölogists have differed with Agassiz respecting the limits of the group, the name has been generally retained.