There are thirty-five known species of needlefish around the world. They are known for their thin, sometimes dangerous, jaws that have been known to pierce and even kill human beings. 

(Featured image credit: Christian Grill)


Appearance 

As their name suggests, Needlefish are elongated with thin jaws filled with sharp teeth. Most species have grey-green-colored skin that is darker above than it is below. This is something common to marine creatures of all sizes—known as countershading. It occurs in other to camouflage the fish, to a degree, from predators above or below it. When seen from below, the lighter-colored underside will blend in with the light penetrating the surface of the water. When seen from above, the fish’s darker coloring will blend in with the dark waters beneath it. 

They are slender, usually between one and thirty-seven inches in length. Needlefish have one dorsal fin that’s placed far back along their spines. Their narrow jaws are, by far, their most distinctive feature. As they age, their jaws grow longer in comparison to their bodies. This means that juvenile needlefish have shorter, less distinctive-looking jaws. 

Fisherman with a needlefish
Fisherman with a needlefish


Diet 

Needlefish feed on smaller fish, crustaceans, small cephalopods, and krill. Different species have different preferences. For example, Indian species primarily feed on large crustaceans, while other saltwater species prefer cephalopods. 

Habitat 

Needlefish are common to the subtropics, but they can be found in temperate waters during the winter. In the wild, needlefish live in groups. They feed and migrate together. Moving between the adjacent areas, like the Atlantic Ocean. These fish are commonly found around jetties and reefs. Sometimes, younger fish spend time around bays. 

They range from Maine to Florida in the Atlantic Ocean and then further south to Brazil and the Caribbean. In the Pacific, they live from Mexico to Peru and Japan. There are also groups of needlefish around the East Indies all the way down to Australia. Interestingly, the most common North American species are known for swimming alongside tuna.

X-ray of a needlefish
X-ray of a needlefish

Credit: Dazeley


Reproduction 

Needlefish mate between May and April. The male, which is larger than the female, rides his mate through the water while mating. They lay eggs in shallow water and migrate in order to find the correct breeding ground.

They lay up to 100 eggs at a time which hatch in between ten and fifteen days. The newborn needlefish are around 1/2 inch in length. During their juvenile period, needlefish primarily eat plankton. This changes as their upper jaw grow to match their longer lower jaw. As they age, they grow to a maximum length of 1.5 meters and live to be around eight years old. 

Threats 

Natural predates include tuna, dolphins, eagles, hawks, and osprey. They are relatively small fish and therefore make an ideal meal for any predator even slightly larger than they are. The fish are not considered endangered or threatened. 

Like all marine creatures, the needlefish is threatened by the effects of human-caused climate change and other threats like pollution, by-catch, habitat encroachment, and overfishing

Tuna is one of the needlefish’s natural predators
Tuna is one of the needlefish’s natural predators


Threats to Humans

Despite their small size, there are several recorded instances of needlefish harming and even killing human beings. Their sharp jaws and teeth are, in specific instances, quite dangerous. This, in combination with their incredible jumping ability, means that fishers and divers have been impaled by the fish’s jaw at high speeds. Their jaws are capable of inflicting deep and even life-threatening injuries. 

For example, in 1977, a 10-year-old boy who was fishing with his father was killed when a needlefish jumped out of the water and pierced his eye and brain. A similar death occurred in 2007 when a 16-year-old boy was stabbed through the heart while diving. 

Facts about the Needle Fish 

  • Needlefish have been known to jump out of the water and kill human beings. 
  • They have sharp, skin-piercing jaws and small razor-sharp teeth. 
  • There are thirty-five species of needlefish around the world. 
  • Needlefish mate in April and May. 
  • Juveniles are born with a smaller upper jaw. 
  • Some species live closer to shore and others farther out in the open ocean. 
  • They prey on small fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, and more. 
  • They can grow up to 1.5 meters in length. 
  • Needlefish live around eight years. 


FAQs 

Where do needlefish live?

Needlefish live around the world, primarily in subtropical waters. Some live in brackish and freshwaters. There are thirty-five widely distributed species of needlefish. 

Is a needlefish a gar?

While needlefish do resemble gars, they are distantly related, different species. Sometimes they are described using either name. 

Do needlefish bite humans? 

There are some recorded instances of needlefish biting humans. But, far more common are incidents in which needlefish jump out of the water and pierce human beings with their razor-sharp beaks. 

Are needlefish good to eat? 

Needlefish are caught, cooked, and eaten by some fishermen. They are considered “good to eat” by some people. But, are not a staple fish sought after by fisheries. 

Can needlefish hurt you?

Needlefish do not intentionally hurt human beings. But, there are recorded instances in which needlefish jump out of the water and pierce human beings with their sharp, thin jaws. This has resulted in injuries and even deaths around the world. 

Featured image credit: Christian Grill