Strongylura marina

Atlantic needlefish



Type Locality

Long Island, NY (Walbaum 1792).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Strongylura, from Greek strongylos, meaning “round, circular” and oura, meaning “tail,” apparently referring to the round cross section of the body; marina, from Latin marinus, meaning “of the sea,” from mare, meaning “the sea” (Boschung and Mayden 2004).



Esox marinus Walbum 1792:88.

Strongylura marina Cook 1959:36.



Maximum size: 640 mm SL (Burgess 1980).


Coloration: Back, head and snout are dark green, grading to silvery on the sides and white on the undersides. Bright, silvery white midlateral band, and a dark predorsal band. Anal and pelvic fins are immaculate to dusky; pectoral and dorsal fins lightly pigmented. Caudal fin heavily pigmented, usually bluish near base. Small specimens may have scattered melanophores below the silvery white band on the sides, and fins may be unpigmented (Ross 2001).


Counts: Approximately 325 lateral line scales (Hildebrand and Schroeder 1928); 14-17 dorsal rays; 15-20 anal rays; 10-11 pectoral rays; 6 pelvic rays (Ross 2001).


Body shape: Slender, cylindrical, not compressed (Hardy 1978). Snout needle-shaped (Hubbs et al. 1991); jaws about twice as long as rest of head; teeth in bands in jaws, sharply pointed, the innermost enlarged and canine-like (Hardy 1978).


External morphology: Lateral line low (Hubbs et al. 1991); scales cycloid, small and thin (Boschung and Mayden 2004); large eyes; truncate or slightly forked caudal fin; dorsal and anal fins are small, and are set very far back on the body; pectoral fins inserted high on the body; pelvic fins set far back on body; gill rakers absent (Ross 2001); the dorsal insertion is located behind the anal fin origin (Foster 1974). Ross (2001) notes that both upper and lower jaws of larvae are initially equal in length; however, lower jaw begins to grow more rapidly than the upper jaw, so that the upper jaw does not again equal length of the lower jaw until late in the juvenile stage.


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: This estuarine species inhabits coastal waters from Maine to Brazil; may also be found considerable distances upstream in the lower portions of coastal streams (Hubbs et al 1991).


Texas distribution: Warren et al. (2000) listed the following drainage units for distribution of Strongylura marina in the state: Sabine Lake (including minor coastal drainages west to Galveston Bay), Galveston Bay (including minor coastal drainages west to mouth of Brazos River), Brazos River, Colorado River, San Antonio Bay (including minor coastal drainages west of mouth of Colorado River to mouth of Nueces River), Nueces River.


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Populations in southern drainages are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Estuarine (Hubbs et al. 1991). Only North American belonid that commonly enters fresh water. Moves upstream as far as the Fall Line (Burgess 1980). Reported from coastal ponds, large springs, and canals (Hardy 1978).


Mesohabitat: Adults found primarily inshore, in shallow water, usually at the surface. Maximum salinity, 36.9 ppt (Hardy 1978).




Spawning season: Late spring and early summer, in the Potomac River (Foster 1974). In Texas, near ripe females reported in mid-February (Hardy 1978).


Spawning Habitat: Occurring in fresh and brackish water in shallows with submerged algal masses (Hellier 1967; Foster 1974).


Spawning behavior: The eggs are demersal, adhesive, and attached via filaments to algal mats (Breder and Rosen 1966; Foster 1974; Hardy 1978).


Fecundity: Fertilized eggs large, spherical, averaging 3.5-3.6 mm diameter. Eggs have numerous, uniformly spaced filaments about equal to egg diameter in length (Breder and Rosen 1966; Foster 1974; Hardy 1978; Ross 2001). Only the ovary on the right side of the body is developed (Collette 1968).


Age at maturation: Probably in 2nd year (Hardy 1978).


Migration: Apparently makes definite seasonal inshore-offshore movements (Hardy 1978).


Growth and Population structure: Newly hatched larvae relatively large at 9.2-14.4 mm TL (Foster 1974; Hardy 1978).




Food habits: Diet includes various small fishes, copepods, mysids, shrimp, and insects (Hildebrand and Schroeder 1928; Darnell 1958; Springer and Woodburn 1960; Carr and Adams 1973). Larger fish primarily piscivorous, manipulating prey into a headfirst position by moving their own body around the prey, which remains motionless in the water due to inertia. Changes in food habits occur as a result of the growth in length of the upper jaw relative to the lower, early juveniles being at a stage where the upper jaw is much shorter than the lower jaw (Boughton et al. 1991). At this stage fish feed mainly on planktonic invertebrates including amphipods, mysids, and small shrimps, switching almost exclusively to fish prey at 50 mm SL (Carr and Adams 1973) when upper jaw length is at least 60% of lower jaw length (Boughton et al. 1991).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

It is most likely to be confused with gars or pickerels (originally placed in genus Esox by Walbaum in 1792). Species can be distinguished from gars by the truncate or forked, homocercal caudal fin (as opposed to abbreviate heterocercal) caudal fin and by thin, flexible cycloid scales (as opposed to heavy, ganoid scales). Can be separated from the pickerels and other freshwater fishes by narrow and elongated jaws; pectoral fin base high on the body; and elongated, slender body (Ross 2001).


Host Records

Trematoda: Bucephaliodes strongylurae, Rhipidocotyle transversale

(Mayberry et al. 2000).


Commercial or Environmental Importance




Boschung, H. T., Jr., and R. L. Mayden. 2004. Fishes of Alabama. Smithsonian Books, Washington. 736 pp.

Boughton, D. A., B. B. Collette, and A. R. McCune. 1991. Heterochrony in jaw morphology of needlefishes (Telostei: Belonidae). Syst. Zool. 40(3):329-354.

Breder, C.M., Jr., and D.E. Rosen. 1966. Modes of Reproduction in Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Jersey City, N.J. 941 pp.

Burgess, G. H. 1980. Strongylura marina (Walbaum), Atlantic needlefish. P. 489 in D.S. Lee, et al. Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. N. C. State Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, i-r+854 pp.

Carr, W. E. S., and C. A. Adams. 1973. Food habits of juvenile marine fishes occupying seagrass beds in the estuarine zone near Crystal River, Florida. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 102(3):511-540.

Collette, B.B. 1968. Strongylura timucu (Walbaum): a valid species of western Atlantic needlefish. Copeia 1968(1):189-192.

Cook, F.A. 1959. Freshwater Fishes of Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson. 239 pp.

Darnell, R. M. 1958. Food habits of fishes and larger invertebrates of Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, an estuarine community. Univ. Texas, Publ. Inst. Mar. Sci. 5:353-416.

Foster, N. R. 1974. Strongylura marina-Atlantic Needlefish, pp. 125-126 In: Manual for identification of early developmental stages of fishes of the Potomac River estuary. A. J. Lippson and R. L. Moran, eds. Environmental Technology Center, Marietta Corp., Baltimore, Md.

Hardy, J. D., Jr. 1978. Development of fishes of the mid-Atlantic bight. Vol. II. Anguillidae through Syngnathidae. FWS/OBS-78/12, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Service Program. 458 pp.

Hellier, T.R., Jr. 1967. The fishes of the Santa Fe River system. Bull. Fla. State Mus. Biol. Ser. 2(1):1-46.

Hildebrand, S. F., and W. S. Schroeder. 1928. Fishes of Chesapeake Bay. Bull. U.S. Bur. Fish. 43(I):1-336.

Hubbs, C., R. J. Edwards, and G. P. Garrett. 1991. An annotated checklist for the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. The Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56.

Mayberry, L. F., A. G. Canaris, and J. R. Bristol. 2000. Bibliography of parasites and vertebrate host in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (1893-1984). University of Nebraska Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology Web Server pp. 1-100.

Ross, S. T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. 624 pp.

Springer, V. G. and K. D. Woodburn. 1960. An ecological study of the fishes of the Tampa Bay area. Prof. Pap., ser. no. I, Florida State Board of Conservation, St. Petersburg. 104 pp.

Walbaum, J. [1792] 1966. Petri Artedi sueci genera piscium, ichthyologiae pars III. J. Cramer, Wheldon and Whesley, Ltd., Codicote, Herts.

Warren, M.L. Jr., B.M. Burr, S. J. Walsh, H.L. Bart Jr., R. C. Cashner, D.A. Etnier, B. J. Freeman, B.R. Kuhajda, R.L. Mayden, H. W. Robison, S.T. Ross, and W. C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, distribution and conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries 25(10):7-29.