Explanation offered for deep black fish caught in Florida

A primitive fish was found in west Florida's Choctawhatchee River and even state biologists had to pause to figure out what they caught.

A primitive fish was found in west Florida’s Choctawhatchee River and even state biologists had to pause to figure out what they caught.

FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute picture

A primitive fish straight out of a Jurassic Park movie was caught in west Florida’s Choctawhatchee River and even state biologists had to pause to figure out what they had.

The discovery was made 100 miles northwest of Tallahassee by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, and photos show the eel-like fish had black eyes and black teeth.

“What’s black as tar, has armored scales and a mouth full of teeth?” the institute asked in a June 22 Facebook post.

“A melanistic longnose guy!”

Put simply, the creature was a known fish with a rare and disconcerting abnormality.

Longnose gar are typically a “tan-olive color, with brown spots,” but this one had darkened into something that would be virtually invisible in the murky 170-mile river.

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A primitive fish was found in west Florida’s Choctawhatchee River and even state biologists had to pause figure out what they caught. FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute picture

“Melanism is an abnormal extent of dark coloration in the skin, scales, fur, or feathers of animals and is characterized by excessive deposits of melanin,” the institute explained. “It’s relatively rare in animals and is not seen often by biologists.”

The fish was released back into the river after being examined, officials said.

Even without “melanism,” longnose gar are an intimidating predator fish with a lineage dating back “about 100 million years,” according to the National Park Service.

They are long (3 feet) and thin, with scales “as hard as tooth enamel,” teeth as sharp as needles and eggs that are toxic. They are also capable of living “more than 24 hours completely out of the water,” the park service says.

“It waits until the prey is in range then lunges and thrashes its head from side to side, impaling its prey. The gar then maneuvers the prey in order to swallow it head first,” the National Park Service reports.

Photos of the black guy have gotten more than 1,500 reactions on Facebook, with some noting it proves you “never know what’s out there.” Other commenters called it “gorgeous” and wanted one of their own.

“I need one for a fish tank,” Drew Olah wrote.

This story was originally published June 23, 2022 8:45 AM.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.

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