Atlantic Needlefish Univ. of Texas Marine Science Inst.

Atlantic Needlefish
Univ. of Texas Marine Science Inst.

Class
Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Family
Belonidae (Needlefishes)
State Protection
Not Listed
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
S2S3
Global Conservation Status Rank
G5

Summary

Did you know?

When cooked, the bones of the needlefish turn green (Lake 1983).

State Ranking Justification

This is a marine fish that is a regular visitor to the lower Hudson River during the summer months, with specimens captured as far north as Ulster Park (Smith 1985) and Germantown (Robert Daniels, pers. comm. 2007). A single specimen is also documented from the New York portion of the Delaware River, but it is not known how regularly this species occurs in this section of this river (Robert Daniels, pers. comm. 2007). It is thought to be a fairly common marine species with a restricted distribution in the state (marine and estuarine waters around Long Island and the lower Hudson River), but fluctuations in numbers, both in incidental capture data and anecdotal reports, have been observed since the late 1800s (Mearns 1898, Greeley 1937, Lake 2007, Socrates 2007) and there is uncertainty if this represents a decline in the population. The loss of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) at one location on the Hudson River has been associated with a reduction in needlefish numbers there (Lake 2007), but this may be from a resultant shift in habitat use, rather than a reduction in overall needlefish numbers. Additional information on the population and threats is needed to better assess the status of the population.

Short-term Trends

The short-term trends are difficult to assess, since they are based on anecdotal information and incidental catches during fish sampling efforts. The available data indicates a consistently low catch of fish in samples from the 1990s (compared to catches in the 1980s), but higher catch rates were made during the mid-2000s, with a subsequent drop in numbers during 2007 on the north and south shores of western Long Island (Socrates 2007). Likewise, in the Hudson River, the number of adult Atlantic needlefish caught in educational seining efforts in the 1990s decreased from former high counts in the 1980s, with fewer adult fish found between 2000 and 2007, but many more post-larval, young-of-year, and juvenile needlefish appearing in beach seines during these latter years (Lake 2007). Additional information is needed to determine the status of this species.

Long-term Trends

The long-term trends are unknown and are based on anecdotal information and incidental catches during fish sampling efforts. Mearns (1898) considered Atlantic needlefish to be common in the late 1800s, while Greeley (1937), although noting that Mearns considered this species to be common in the Hudson River in the autumn, considered it to be rare in the early 1900s. During the 1970s, Atlantic needlefish were not reported often in the Hudson River, but this may be due to a lack of adequate sampling for this species. In the 1980s, needlefish were more commonly reported in the Hudson River (Lake 2007) and found on Long Island (Socrates 2007), and many needlefish caught in the Hudson River at this time were adults approximately 250 to 500 mm in length. During the 1990s, fewer needlefish were reported in catches from the Hudson River. Although fewer adult needlefish were recorded in the Hudson River at that time, young-of-year needlefish began showing up as far north as Kingston and this trend continues to the present, with fewer adult fish reported and many more post-larval, young-of-year, and juvenile needlefish appearing between 2000 and 2007 (Lake 2007). The trend on the north and south shores of western Long Island, based on data collected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, seems to indicate a similar pattern through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, with a few periodic increases in catch rates during mid to late 1990s and mid-2000s (Socrates 2007). These variations in numbers may or may not actually represent a population decline and additional information is needed to determine the status of this species.

Conservation and Management

Threats

Loss of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) may be a threat. The loss of SAV in one Hudson River location that once supported great numbers of needlefish during the 1980s resulted in a subsequent scarcity of needlefish at this location (Lake 2007), but may not have affected the overall population.

Research Needs

Determine the population status of this species in New York waters.

Habitat

Habitat

The Atlantic needlefish is primarily marine, but is a resident fish during the summer months in the Hudson River estuary, where it has been caught as far north as Ulster Park (Smith 1985) and Germantown (Robert Daniels, pers. comm. 2007). Needlefish generally inhabit submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and marshes of the lower and middle Hudson River, from just north of the Hudson Highlands to just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge (Lake 1983). One specimen is known from the New York portion of the Delaware River, but it is not known how regularly this species occurs in the New York section of this river (Robert Daniels, pers. comm. 2007).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Freshwater tidal creek (guide)
  • Saltwater tidal creek (guide)
  • Tidal river (guide)

Associated Species

  • Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
  • Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix)

Range

New York State Distribution

This is a marine fish that is found in the Hudson River during the summer months. It can tolerate freshwater and has been documented in the Hudson River estuary as far north as Germantown and at least one specimen is known from the New York portion of the Delaware River (Robert Daniels, pers. comm. 2007).

Global Distribution

The Atlantic needlefish ranges along the Atlantic coast from Maine to the northern Gulf of Mexico and south to Brazil (Lee et al. 1980).

Best Places to See

  • (Putnam County)
  • Lower Hudson River - Generally, fish are difficult to see, although Atlantic needfish can sometimes be seen swimming along the surface of the water along Hudson River inlets during the incoming or outgoing tides (J. Jaycox, pers. obs.). (Westchester County)

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

The Atlantic needlefish is related to the flying-fishes and halfbeaks (Smith 1985). In appearance, it is an elongate and slender fish with thin scales and a body that tapers at both ends. The coloration varies from dark green above, silver along the sides, and white below, with a dark and narrow line running along each side (Lake 1983, Smith 1985). The dorsal and anal fins are situated far back on the body. The tail is slightly forked. The jaws are very elongate, about twice the length of the rest of the head and lined with sharp, pointed teeth (Lake 1983). In the Hudson River, needlefish average 9 to 11 inches (23 - 28 cm) in the summer, up to 20 inches (51 cm) by late fall, with some of the largest fish nearing 30 inches (76 cm) in length (Lake 1983).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

The extremely slender body and narrow, elongated jaws distinguish Atlantic needlefish from almost all other fish.

Behavior

Like some other marine fish in the Hudson, needlefish follow the salt front as it moves up the Hudson during the summer months (Lake 1983). Spawning occurs in May and June (Lake 1983) and includes the shallows of fresh and brackish water marshes (Carpenter 2002). Needlefish rely upon the tidal marshes of the lower reaches of the Hudson River for food and shelter (Lake 1983). Needlefish are surface feeders (Lake 1983) and they are occasionally observed swimming just under the surface of the water in the lower Hudson River during the summer months, with individuals appearing as a single strand of drifting aquatic vegetation (Jesse Jaycox, pers. obs.). Unlike many other fish, the lateral line is located ventrally, allowing needlefish to pursue their prey on the surface of the water (Lake 1983). They are attracted to lights at night and, when frightened, they may leap out of the water or skitter across the surface (Carpenter 2002).

Diet

The Atlantic needlefish feeds both day and night on various small fish (Lee et al. 1980), including silversides, killifish, and juvenile river herring (Lake 1983).

Best Time to See

Spawning occurs in May and June with the larvae appearing in the lower Hudson after hatching (Lake 1983). Adults and, in more recent years, post-larval, young-of-year, and juveniles, are present in the Hudson River estuary during the summer months, suggesting that some spawning takes place in the Hudson River (Lake 2007).

  • Present
  • Reproducing

The time of year you would expect to find Atlantic Needlefish present and reproducing in New York.

Similar Species

  • Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

Atlantic Needlefish Images

Taxonomy

Atlantic Needlefish
Strongylura marina (Walbaum, 1792)

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Craniata
      • Class Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
        • Order Beloniformes (Needlefishes)
          • Family Belonidae (Needlefishes)

Additional Resources

References

Boughton, D. A., B. B. Collette, and A. R. McCune. 1991. Heterochrony in jaw morphology of needlefishes (Teleostei: Belonidae). Systematic Zoology 40:329-354.

Carpenter, K.E., editor. 2002. The living marine resources of the western central Atlantic. Volume 2: Bony fishes part 1 (Acipenseridae to Grammatidae). American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the Food and Drug Administration.

Greeley, J.R. 1937. The fishes of the area with annotated list. pp. 45-104 in a biological survey of the Lower Hudson watershed. Suppl. to 26th annual report, 1936. Albany, NY.

Lake, Tom. 1983. Poor Man's Marlin - The Atlantic Needlefish. The Conservationist, July-August 1983, pp. 32-36.

Lake, Tom. 2007. E-mail of December 26-27, 2007 to Jesse W. Jaycox regarding Atlantic needlefish in the Hudson River estuary.

Lee, D. S., C. R. Gilbert, C. H. Hocutt, R. E. Jenkins, D. E. McAllister, and J. R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina. i-x + 854 pp.

Manooch, C. S., III. 1984. Fisherman's guide. Fishes of the southeastern United States. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh. 362 pp.

Mearns, E.A. 1898. A study of the vertebrate fauna of the Hudson Highlands, with observations on the mollusca, crustacea, lepidoptera, and the flora of the region. Bulletin American Museum Natural History 10(16):303-352.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Robins, C. R., and G. C. Ray. 1986. A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes of North America. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, Massachusetts. 354 pp.

Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.

Smith, C.L. 1985. The Inland Fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 522pp.

Socrates, Julia. 2007. A study of the striped bass in the Marine District of New York State. Unpublished report to the United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service of November 2007.

Socrates, Julia. 2007. Atlantic needlefish caught in WLI (western Long Island) seine survey. Unpublished catch effort graph of December 27, 2007 for the years 1984 to 2007.

Links

About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: January 4, 2008

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Strongylura marina. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/atlantic-needlefish/. Accessed January 18, 2019.

Back to top