New York Natural Heritage Program
Atlantic Needlefish
Strongylura marina (Walbaum, 1792)
Ray-finned Fishes

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).
Atlantic Needlefish Images
click to enlarge
The 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 (blue shading) and reproducing (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)
    The Longnose Gar has hard, diamond-shaped scales and a heterocercal and rounded tail, depending upon the age of the fish, as compared to the trucated, slightly forked tail of the Atlantic needlefish. Also, the longnose gar is not generally found in the lower Hudson River.