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.
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.
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.)
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.