By C. Paxton

Illustration of an Alligator Gar

Illustration of an Alligator Gar from The Alligator Gar by Alfred C. Weed

Wildopeneye stretched a bit wider this morning and watered a little when I learned via an article on Open Culture that there are now over two million images of nature available online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)! What a wonderful resource for writers, teachers and students worldwide! It is not just the images that are available either, the associated scientific literature is also there.

According to the Biodiversity Heritage Library STRATEGIC PLAN: 2015-2017, the goal is identified in BHL’s Mission statement as “Inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge” and the improvement of “research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.”

I ran a search on “Alligator Gar” and have become engrossed in The Alligator Gar by Alfred C. Weed, Curator of Fishes originally published by the FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY in CHICAGO in 1923. It’s great stuff! On page 67,  Weed mentions a fascinating link between the gar and the local mother-of-pearl industry in the Mississippi drainage region:

“The total value of gars as food, as game or as
scavengers may not be very great but it is, at least,
worth mentioning. Their value to the pearl button industry
is probably as great, but the connection is so
obscure that it has not been suspected until very recently.
The relation between a pearl-handled knife
and an Alligator Gar may not seem very close and yet
the best shells for making knife handles and other
novelties could not live without the gars.”

Some local clam species, some of them of economic importance in the shell industry depend upon a parasitic relationship with the gar in their reproduction, free-floating eggs lodge within the gills of the fish and hatch into larvae that remain there, embedded for differing periods of their development. He goes on to say that the Alligator gar “is one of the three species that seem to be neccessary for the breeding of the best button shell.”

What an amazing environmental education resource.  I am going to explore it further before saying anything more on the subject!