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Flood Carries River Monsters Onto the Land

By Andrés Ruzo, NG Young Explorers grantee

The powerful rains that hit Texas and the surrounding region last month led to more than two dozen human deaths, and were a reminder of how little we are able to resist nature’s wild side when unleashed.

They were also a reminder to those of us who live in the area that our buildings and byways are a very recent arrival to this ancient landscape.

(Photo by Andrés Ruzo)
The Trinity River, running through the heart of Dallas, rose dramatically as a result of the rains and flooded many areas in the city. (Photo by Andrés Ruzo)

The Trinity River, running through the heart of Dallas, rose dramatically as a result of the rains and flooded many areas in the city. Tennis courts I passed near the river were under about four feet of water, and as a geoscientist and National Geographic explorer, it was fascinating to see geologic processes at work, depositing a layer of sediments (now just “cracked mud”) on the courts.

(Photo by Andrés Ruzo)
Silt in the river left high-water marks along the fences of a nearby tennis court. (Photo by Andrés Ruzo)

Geologically speaking, sediment deposition was what I expected to find here—however, the floodwaters brought in more than just mud …

A number of juvenile longnose gar were stuck in the fences near the Trinity, likely trying to return to the main river after feeding in the flooded areas. It was a bittersweet sight, as their untimely death allowed me to observe their impressive, armorlike scales and mouths full of sharp teeth. Certain Native American groups used gar scales as arrowheads, and even as protective breastplates. (Learn all about Monster Fish around the world.)

(Photo by Andrés Ruzo)
Living fossils like the gar are a reminder that our buildings and byways are a very recent arrival to this ancient landscape. (Photo by Andrés Ruzo)

Most of the gar caught in the fence were around two feet long; I left eager to see one of the six-foot adults living in the Trinity. Gar are often called “living fossils” as they have remained virtually unchanged for the last 100 million years (since the late Cretaceous)! The ancestors of these gar shared the world with T. rex and Velociraptors. It seems almost fitting to have attention drawn to all these guys now that “Jurassic World” is in theaters.

Unfortunately, in the past, their prehistoric look earned gars a bad reputation, which led to indiscriminate killings of these amazing creatures. This, as well as uncontrolled trophy fishing and human development, are major threats to their survival today.

Fortunately, there is an increasing push to protect gar and educate people so that we replace fear with fascination, allowing our local “river monsters” to continue swimming for another 100 million years.

Learn More About Gar

Watch Clips From “Monster Fish” With Explorer Zeb Hogan

See the “Monster Fish” Exhibit at NG Headquarters

 

Comments

  1. George
    Cincinnati
    July 10, 2015, 9:56 pm

    I have a similar picture of a gar stuck in a fence by the Little Miami river after flood waters receded.

  2. Victoria Jenkins
    San Antonio ,Texas
    July 4, 2015, 9:58 am

    If the headline gets someone to read this story about how our environment is changing I am all for it. Sadly Man’s greed is the monster here.

  3. debbie catalina
    oregon
    June 30, 2015, 10:05 pm

    it makes me so sad seeing these fish like this. man is destroying the planet.

  4. Laura Marjorie Miller
    South Hadley, MA
    June 30, 2015, 2:19 pm

    The pandering headline (‘monsters,’ NGeo, really?) belies the sensitivity and long perspective of this story.

  5. Bob
    Pittsburgh, Pa
    June 29, 2015, 7:42 pm

    What a pathetic tag line to get people to read a story. “Monsters”? Really?? While Nat Geo didn’t write the story, posting it with headline shows very poor taste. This should have been an taken as an opportunity to TEACH people, not create fear.