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What is a Needlefish?

By Alex Terris
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Needlefish are found in shallow waters and sometimes near the surface of oceans. The fish are slim, and can range greatly in size from one inch (about 3 cm) to 37 inches (about 95 cm). Needlefish get their name from the thin, narrow “beak” that contains a large number of teeth and is used for catching prey. Usually, the fish live off plankton and small fish.

There are several different species of needlefish. Some are found in oceans and seas, while others live in freshwater environments. The fish are found in a wide range of different regions and can live in temperate water, although they prefer warmer areas. Some species live in cooler regions of water in summer and move to tropical regions in the winter. Needlefish rarely go deep beneath the surface when living in the open sea.

The diet of a particular species of the fish depends on the environment. For example, freshwater fish have a diet made up almost entirely of other fish. Most of the fish have a diet that consists of small crustaceans and plankton as well as other fish.

Many species of needlefish swim in schools. Some even join schools of other types of fish, such as mackerel. The size of the schools depends on the species involved.

Even though the fish are relatively small, they can pose a danger to humans. This is largely due to behavior that’s seen in a number of similar fish, where the animal gets attracted by bright lights and jumps out of the water at a high speed. Although deaths are rare, they are not unheard of; serious injuries can occur to people using lights on unprotected boats at night, especially if several fish jump at the same time. Local fishermen are most at risk.

Smaller species of needlefish are sometimes kept in aquariums. For example, the Xenentodon cancila, a fish found in Asia, is commonly kept as a pet. Some needlefish can grow quite large, however, so it’s important that they are kept in aquariums of the correct size. This particular fish should not be kept by beginner tropical fish enthusiasts, as it can be difficult to raise in an aquarium environment.

Another common example is the Belone needlefish. This species can grow to around 20-25 inches (60cm) in length, although there have been some discovered that are much larger. The species is regularly caught as a game fish.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By cmsmith10 — On Oct 22, 2010

As the article stated, needlefish can be dangerous. A few years ago, a 10 year-old boy from Kauai was night fishing in a small boat with his father. Sadly, the needlefish caught the young boy in his face and the boy died.

In other areas of the Pacific, needlefish have punctured people in the abdomen, chest, arms, legs, head and neck.

However rare it may be, these fish do pose a danger and caution should be used.

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