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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrate > fishes
Family Belonidae
updated Sep 2020
Where seen? These long stick-like fishes with pointed jaws are sometimes seen near mangroves as well as reef flats. Some may even be found upstream in freshwater. During the day, larger ones are sometimes seen at jetties in small groups.

What are needlefishes? Needlefishes belong to the Family Belonidae. According to FishBase: the family has 10 genera and 34 species. Besides marine species, some species are found in freshwater.

Features: 50cm-1m long or more, these fishes have a long silvery body. In some, the cross-section of the body is circular, in others rectangular. They usually have a dark blue stripe along the body length, and the tip of the lower jaw may be red or orange. They have long, narrow pointed jaws that are beak- or needle-like, thus their common name. 'Belone' means 'needle' in Greek. These slender jaws are usually filled with sharp needle-like teeth. The jaws are shorter in juveniles, elongating as they age. Has one single dorsal fin.

Sometimes mistaken for halfbeaks. Halfbeaks are generally shorter and only their lower jaw is elongated while the upper jaw is very short. In needlefishes, both the upper and lower jaws are of equal length and usually filled with sharp teeth. Here's more on how to tell apart stick-like fishes commonly seen on our shores.

Chek Jawa, Nov 09

Chek Jawa, Nov 09
Camouflage in the open: Like other fishes that live near the water surface, they are usually darker coloured from above, and silvery from below. Thus they are camouflaged from predators both above and below the water.

Jumping Needles: These fishes tend to skitter or make shallow leaps out at the water surface. They appear to be attracted to lights at night and there are stories of these fishes leaping into fishermen's boats at night. Occasionally, there are reports of people accidentally being killed by the spear-like jaws of these leaping fishes.

What do they eat?
These surface-dwelling fishes hunt small surface-dwelling fishes, catching these with a sideway movement of their jaws. They in turn are hunted by larger fishes including dolphins.
Needlefishes (Family Belonidae) from the Chek Jawa boardwalk
Baby needlefishes: Their eggs have entangling tendrils so the eggs cling to one another or to objects in the water. Juveniles of some species shelter in mangroves, moving out to deeper waters when they mature.

Human uses: In some places, they are caught for eating. Although the flesh is said to taste good, the fishes have many small bones which are green and thus appear rather unappetising.

Needlefishes on Singapore shores
On wildsingapore flickr

Other sightings on Singapore shores

Chek Jawa, Oct 16
Photo shared by James Chua on facebook.

Chek Jawa, Oct 16

St John's Island, Dec 16
Photo shared by Marcus Ng on flickr.

Cyrene Reef, Aug 13
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on flickr.

Seringat-Kias, Aug 15
Photo shared by Loh Kok Sheng on flickr.

Family Belonidae recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
*from Lim, Kelvin and Jeffrey K Y Low, Guide to Common Marine Fishes of Singapore
**from WORMS

  Family Belonidae
  Belone platyura=**Platybelone argalus platyura

Strongylura strongylura
(Spot-tail needlefish)
*Strongylura leiura
(Banded or Slender needlefish)

Tylosurus annulatus=**Tylosurus crocodilus crocodilus
Tylosurus crocodilus=**Tylosurus crocodilus crocodilus
Tylosurus insicus
Tylosurus leiurus=**Strongylura leiura
Tylosorus melanotus=**Tylosurus acus melanotus
Tylosorus strongylurus=**Strongylura strongylura



  • Kelvin K. P. Lim. 26 February 2016. Large congregation of yellowfin needlefish at Harbourfront. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2016: 26-27
  • Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Allen, Gerry, 2000. Marine Fishes of South-East Asia: A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Periplus Editions. 292 pp.
  • Kuiter, Rudie H. 2002. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia: A Comprehensive Reference for Divers & Fishermen New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
  • Lieske, Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.
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