Tylosurus crocodilus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Beloniformes
Family: Belonidae
Bonaparte, 1832


Needlefish (family Belonidae) are piscivorous fishes primarily associated with very shallow marine habitats or the surface of the open sea. Some genera include species found in marine, brackish, and freshwater environments (e.g., Strongylura) while a few genera are confined to freshwater rivers and streams, including Belonion, Potamorrhaphis, and Xenentodon. [1] Needlefish closely resemble North American freshwater gars (family Lepisosteidae) in being elongate and having long, narrow jaws filled with sharp teeth, and some species of needlefish are referred to as gars or garfish despite being only distantly related to the true gars. In fact the name "garfish" was originally used for the needlefish Belone belone in Europe and only later applied to the North American fishes by European settlers during the 18th century.[2]



A Needlefish is being cleaned by Rainbow cleaner Wrasses,Labroides phthirophagus
X-ray of a needlefish

Needlefish are slender fish, ranging from 3 centimetres (1.2 in) to 95 centimetres (37 in) in length. They have a single dorsal fin, placed far back on the body, almost opposite to the anal fin. Their most distinctive feature is their long narrow beak, which bears multiple sharp teeth. In most species, the upper jaw only reaches its full length in adulthood, so that the juveniles have a half-beak appearance, with an elongate lower jaw, but a much smaller upper one. During this stage of their life cycle, they eat plankton, switching to fish once the beak fully develops.[3]


All needlefish feed primarily on smaller fishes, which they catch with a sideways sweep of the head. In addition some species will also take plankton, swimming crustaceans, and small cephalopods. Freshwater species are also predatory, with the Asian species at least feeding exclusively on small crustaceans. [4]

Needlefish are most common in the tropics but some inhabit temperate waters as well, particularly during the summer months. Belone belone is a common North Atlantic species that often swims in schools alongside mackerel.

Danger to humans

Needlefish, like all ray-finned beloniforms, are capable of making short jumps out of the water at up to 38 miles per hour (61 km/h). Since needlefish swim near the surface, they often leap over the decks of shallow boats rather than going around. This jumping activity is greatly excited by artificial light at night; night fisherman and divers in areas across the Pacific Ocean have been "attacked" by schools of suddenly excited needlefish diving across the water towards the light source at high speed. Their sharp beak is capable of inflicting deep puncture wounds, often breaking off inside the victim in the process. For many traditional Pacific Islander communities, who primarily fish on reefs from low boats, needlefish represent an even greater risk of injury than sharks.[5]

Two historical deaths have been attributed to needlefish. The first was in 1977 when a 10-year-old Hawai'ian boy, night fishing with his father at Hanamaulu Bay, Kaua'i, was killed when a 3-to-4-foot-long (0.91 to 1.2 m) needlefish jumped from the water and pierced his eye and brain.[6] The second was a 16-year-old Vietnamese boy, stabbed through the heart by the 6-inch (150 mm) spike of a needlefish in 2007 while night diving for sea cucumbers near Halong Bay. [7]


Needlefishes are members of the Beloniformes and close relatives of the flyingfishes, halfbeaks, and sauries. [8] The family contains 34 species, grouped into 10 genera[9]:

Family Belonidae

  • Genus Ablennes
    • Ablennes hians - Flat needlefish
  • Genus Belone
    • Belone belone - Garpike
    • Belone svetovidovi- Arafyda
  • Genus Belonion
    • Belonion apodion- Spinner Garfish
    • Belonion dibranchodon- Amazon small needlefish
  • Genus Petalichthys
    • Petalichthys capensis - Cape needlefish
  • Genus Platybelone
    • Platybelone argalus - Keeltail needlefish
  • Genus Potamorrhaphis
    • Potamorrhaphis eigenmanni- Ehrlich Jiang needlefish
    • Potamorrhaphis guianensis- Knotted Zophi
    • Potamorrhaphis petersi-Fish River needlefish boyfriend
  • Genus Pseudotylosaurus
    • Pseudotylosurus angusticeps- Needle Fish, Fish Pen Needle
    • Pseudotylosurus microps- Needle Fish, Fish Pen
  • Genus Strongylura
    • Strongylura anastomella- datsu
    • Strongylura exilis - Californian needlefish
    • Strongylura fluviatilis- stream habitat column needlefish
    • Strongylura hubbsi - Maya needlefish
    • Strongylura incisa - Reef needlefish
    • Strongylura krefftii - freshwater Long tom
    • Strongylura leiura - Banded needlefish
    • Strongylura marina - Atlantic needlefish
    • Strongylura notata - Redfin needlefish
    • Strongylura scapularis - Shoulderspot needlefish
    • Strongylura senegalensis - Senegal needlefish
    • Strongylura strongylura - Spottail needlefish
    • Strongylura timucu - Timucu
    • Strongylura urvillii - Urville's longtom
  • Genus Tylosurus
    • Tylosurus acus - Agujon needlefish
    • Tylosurus choram - Red Sea houndfish
    • Tylosurus crocodilus
    • Tylosurus gavialoides - Stout longtom
    • Tylosurus pacificus - Pacific agujon needlefish
    • Tylosurus punctulatus - Spotted long-tom
  • Genus Xenentodon

In the aquarium

Some species of needlefish inhabit brackish and freshwater environments, and one of the freshwater species, Xenentodon cancila from South East Asia, is occasionally kept as an aquarium fish. It is a relatively small species, no more than 30 to 40 cm in length when fully grown, but is considered to be a rather delicate fish best suited to advanced aquarists.[10]


  1. ^ Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors.. 207 "Family Belonidae - Needlefishes". FishBase. 207. Retrieved 2006-11-29. 
  2. ^ Douglas Harper. "Online Etymological Dictionary". Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2006-11-29. 
  3. ^ Collette, B.B. & Parin, N.V. (1998). Paxton, J.R. & Eschmeyer, W.N.. ed. Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 144–145. ISBN 0-12-547665-5. 
  4. ^ Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors.. "Species Summary for Xenentodon cancila ". FishBase. Retrieved 2006-11-29. 
  5. ^ Scott, Susan. "Ocean Watch: Those needlefish are not totally harmless after all." Honolulu Star-Bulletin. 16 DEC 1996. <>
  6. ^ "A Fatal Brain Injury Caused by a Needlefish". M. J. McCabe, W. M. Hammon, B. W. Halstead and T. H. Newton. Journal of Neuroradiology. 15:3 (May 1978). <>
  7. ^ "Needlefish stabs diver to death in Vietnam". Deutsche Press Agenteur. 10 SEP 2007. <
  8. ^ Helfman G., Collette B., & Facey D.: The Diversity of Death
  9. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2008). "Belonidae" in FishBase. November 2008 version.
  10. ^ Monks N: Straight to the point: the Beloniformes. Practical Fishkeeping, October 2005

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • needlefish — [nēd′ lfish΄] n. pl. needlefish or needlefishes (see FISH) any of a family (Belonidae, order Atheriniformes) of elongated, voracious, marine bony fishes with long jaws and sharp, needlelike teeth …   English World dictionary

  • Needlefish — Nee dle*fish , n. (Zo[ o]l.) (a) The European great pipefish ({Siphostoma acus} or {Syngnathus acus}); called also {earl}, and {tanglefish}. (b) The garfish. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • needlefish — /need l fish /, n., pl. (esp. collectively) needlefish, (esp. referring to two or more kinds or species) needlefishes. 1. any fish of the family Belonidae, of warm seas and coastal fresh waters, having a sharp beak and needlelike teeth. 2. a… …   Universalium

  • needlefish — Garfish Gar fish , n. [See {Gar}, n.] (Zo[ o]l.) (a) A European marine fish ({Belone vulgaris}); called also {gar}, {gerrick}, {greenback}, {greenbone}, {gorebill}, {hornfish}, {longnose}, {mackerel guide}, {sea needle}, and {sea pike}. (b) One… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • needlefish — /ˈnidlfɪʃ/ (say needlfish) noun (plural needlefish or needlefishes) 1. any fish of the family Belonidae, with a long sharp beak and needle like teeth, found in all warm seas and in some coastal fresh waters; long tom. 2. → pipefish. Usage: For… …   Australian English dictionary

  • needlefish — noun Date: 1601 1. any of a family (Belonidae) of elongate carnivorous chiefly marine bony fishes that are silvery with blue or green backs and have long slender jaws and sharp teeth 2. pipefish …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • needlefish — noun Slender fish, in the family Belonidae, usually found in shallow marine habitats …   Wiktionary

  • needlefish — n. pipefish, garfish, type of fish that has a long thin snout and needlelike teeth …   English contemporary dictionary

  • needlefish — noun (plural same or needlefishes) North American term for garfish …   English new terms dictionary

  • needlefish — nee•dle•fish [[t]ˈnid lˌfɪʃ[/t]] n. pl. (esp. collectively) fish, (esp. for kinds or species) fish•es. 1) ich any warm water marine fish of the family Belonidae, having long toothed jaws 2) ich a pipefish • Etymology: 1595–1605 …   From formal English to slang

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