This study investigates the evolutionary history of vertebrate red blood cell carbonic anhydrase (CA) by characterizing the isozyme properties and nucleotide sequence of an ancient fish, the longnose gar ( Lepisosteus osseus). The inhibitor sensitivities of gar rbc CA closely resembled those for mammalian CA II, as well as those for CAs from more recently evolved fishes. The kinetic properties of gar rbc CA were not closely aligned with either mammalian CA I and CA II, but fit well into an emerging phylogenetic pattern for early vertebrates. Gar rbc CA cDNA was also amplified from mRNA using 5' and 3'-RACE and the open reading frame consisted of 786 bp. This sequence shares approximately 65% identity with the nucleotide and amino acid sequences of both mammalian CA I and CA II. When the amino acid sequences within the active site are compared, gar rbc CA differs from mammalian CA I, CA II and CA VII by 9, 4 and 3 of the 36 amino acids, respectively. Phylogenetic analyses suggest that gar rbc CA diverged before the amniotic CAs (CA I, CA II and CA III), but after CA V and CA VII.