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Considering their appearance and behavior, needlefish are one of the ocean's odder inhabitants.
The needlefish gets its name from its jaw, which has many sharp teeth and an elongated body, similar to the North American freshwater damselfish. In the wild, needlefish live in groups and migrate between adjacent areas, such as the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, in search of different feeding areas. Scientists know little about their ancestry, but believe they have a long lineage from land animals.
Four amazing facts!
1. Bright lights at night attract needlefish, which is why they congregate on coasts and bays.
2. Needlefish have no stomach. Their digestive system secretes trypsin, which helps break down food.
3. Most species have green or blue bones and flesh.
4. They can jump out of the water at 38 miles per hour.
Needlefish belong to the class Actinopterygii , which includes ray-finned fishes and accounts for more than 50% of extant vertebrates. They belong to one of the six superfamilies of Beloniformes , which are further divided into the family Belonidae . Within this family, there are ten recognized genera of true needlefish: Ablennes, Belone, Belonion, Petalichthys, Platybelone, Potamorrhaphis, Pseudotylosurus, Strongylura, Tylosurus, and Xenentodon .
More than 60 species are distributed throughout the world, mostly in subtropical climates, although some species are known to inhabit temperate waters. One of the more widespread species is the keel needlefish, Platybelone argalus , found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Other examples include the billfish ( Belone belone ) in Europe and the bloodhound ( Tylosurus crocodilus ) which is widespread in the tropics.
The needlefish gets its name from the long, thin, pointed bill that resembles a needle. Needlefish are usually blue to green on top and silvery on the underside. This coloring allows them to camouflage themselves from predators.
The largest grow to around four feet, but you'll find a wide range. For example, the Keeltail needlefish measures between 17 and 20 inches in length, about three to four times smaller than a retriever. The Belonion apodion and Belonion dibranchodon are the smallest, measuring about 2 inches in length.
Distribution, Population and Habitat
Needlefish are found in tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide. Their western Atlantic range is from Maine in the north to Florida in the south, and in the eastern Atlantic from Dacala to Angola. They also have a range from northern Florida southwards to Brazil, inhabiting the entire Caribbean. Pacific habitats include western Mexico, where they are often caught and used in Mexican recipes, as far south as Peru and Japan and the East Indies in the Eastern Pacific, and as far south as Australia.
They inhabit shallow coastal waters near island estuaries and coastal rivers. While most species live in brackish or brackish water, some species are found in freshwater inland rivers in Florida and Alabama. You may spot them on the reef beach at night and around the pier during the day. In some swampy areas, juvenile needlefish, about two inches in size, are often found in seagrass beds. Needlefish travel together in groups to have a better chance of survival. Juveniles sometimes congregate in bays and bays.
predator and prey
Larger fish, such as tuna and dolphins, prey on needlefish, as well as the humans who catch and eat them. Their habit of swimming close to the surface, along with their elongated bodies and thin bones, make them easy prey for eagles, falcons, and ospreys. However, due to their high numbers worldwide, they are not considered threatened.
Needlefish have a varied diet, primarily eating small sea creatures such as small fish and crustaceans such as shrimp, as well as killifish, cephalopods, and whitebait. Freshwater species prey on tadpoles, frogs, and insects. Young fish eat plankton until they are large enough to eat other prey.
Almost every species of needlefish has an elongated body and less pronounced dorsal and anal fins. It helps these fish attack quickly and accurately. Their jumping behavior may also be related to hunting, as they use the momentum of flying back into the water to catch small fish. They often stalk their prey and catch them with a side sweep of their jaws. Although they are not aggressive carnivores, they will sometimes eat so much one day and barely eat the next.
Reproduction and Lifespan
Due to the warm waters, needlefish primarily breed in May and June, but can spawn year-round, usually more than once. Their eggs have a sticky thread that gets tangled in seaweed or floating debris. Babies hatch in about 10 to 15 days. Juveniles often hide in mangroves before moving to deeper waters. When the eggs hatch, the larvae immediately start feeding.
Their maximum age is unknown, but those in captivity usually live three to five years. Lifespan and growth vary with available food and factors such as water temperature, dissolved oxygen and salinity.
The freshwater needlefish, scientific name Xenentodon cancila , is native to Southeast Asia and is usually kept as an ornamental fish with a lifespan of three to five years. Scientists believe the Keeltail needlefish can live up to eight years. In captivity, freshwater needlefish are best kept alone, or with peaceful species such as cichlids, catfish, or gobies, or they will be stressed by more active fish.
fishing and cooking
Needlefish are considered gamefish because they are caught with seines, cast with bait, and trolled on the surface. Needlefish is a popular dish in certain parts of the world, especially in Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean. Angelhinha Frito is a popular needlefish recipe served in beach bars all over Brazil.
Worldwide needlefish populations are unknown, but they are abundant in many parts of the world. Their IUCN Red List protection status is the least of concern.
danger to humans
Although needlefish are generally not very large, their long, slender anatomy, sharp teeth, and unique jumping behavior make them dangerous to humans in certain situations. Their sharp jaws and teeth can pierce a person's brain and torso, killing fish as they leap out of the water at high speed to attack them. Larger species of needlefish, such as retrievers, are more dangerous than smaller species. Night fishermen working through bright lights in shallow water are especially at risk, as trawl lights can lure needlefish into jumping over boats instead of swimming under them.
Schools of needlefish from different parts of the Pacific Ocean and beyond have been known to jump out of the water together. After being attacked, their beaks snap off inside the human body and stay there. Documented fatal attacks by needlefish have occurred in Hawaii and Vietnam. For many Pacific Islanders, needlefish pose a greater danger than sharks.
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Needlefish are not usually dangerous, but they will bite if they feel threatened, and will often jump out of the water to do so.
Freshwater damselfish resemble needlefish, which is why some species are called gar or damselfish. However, damselfish and needlefish are only distant relatives.
Although the flesh is blue-green, needlefish turns white when cooked. The most common recipe calls for fried needlefish.
Needlefish and sailfish belong to different families. Swordfish are members of the swordfish family while needlefish are members of the beron fish family.
Some species of needlefish can grow up to 37.4 inches long.
Needlefish have been known to kill humans, but usually by accident. Their jumping behavior, combined with their long jaws and sharp teeth, results in fatal stab wounds.