needlefish, common name for members of the family Belonidae, which comprises species of elongated, surface-swimming predaceous fish abundant in warm seas. They have beaklike jaws armed with sharp teeth, giving them a superficial resemblance to the gar; some needlefishes reach a length of 6 ft (1.8 m). The Atlantic needlefish, Strongylura marina, also known as the garfish or saltwater gar, may be 3.6 ft (1.1 m) long but is usually smaller; it is found in Atlantic coastal waters and estuaries from Maine to Brazil. The similar garfish or sea needle, Belone belone, of Europe is found from Iceland and the Baltic Sea south to W Africa and east to the Black Sea. Garfishes resemble twigs and are often mistaken for them when lying motionless at the surface of the water. They swim in small schools and occasionally leap clear of the water in their pursuit of smaller fish. The flesh is palatable, although the greenish bones make it repellent to some. Other species include the billfish, the houndfish, and the agujon, an important food fish of Puerto Rico. The halfbeaks and balaos, family Hemiramphidae, smaller than needlefishes and with only the lower jaw extended, are a herbivorous family related to the needlefishes and the flying fish. Needlefishes are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Actinopterygii, order Beloniformes, family Belonidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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