The Needlefish Family – Belonidae
The fish of the Needlefish or Belonidae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as needlefish and/or agujónes. There are currently thirty four global members of the Needlefish Family, six of which reside in Mexican waters of the Pacific. They are all pelagic schooling fish that are normally found on the ocean surface well off shore. The Belonidae are predatory fish that are characterized by their slender elongated bodies, very long, knife-like snouts equipped with massive sets of teeth, and large eyes. They have blue-green backs transitioning to silvery-white ventrally affording them exceptional camouflage. They have a single anal and a single dorsal fin, both located well toward the back of the body. They have very short pectoral fins and generally small pelvic fins found well toward the back of the body. All their fins are spineless.
Needlefishes have the ability to go airborne as a defensive tactic and have been known to injure humans during such maneuvers. They are ferociously carnivorous feeding primarily on anchovies, herrings, and mullets; some species frequently visit inshore rocky and patch reefs in their quest for prey. They reproduce via the release of pelagic eggs that are sticky and attach themselves to floating objects or rocks. Most of the greater Los Cabos Needlefish (with one exception) are very similar in size and appearance and are therefore not straightforward to identify. They are caught as a by-catch on fly lined small live or cut bait when targeting Dorado, Sierra, and Tuna. They are viewed by locals as poor table fare (“too many bones”) and are either treated as “catch and release” or retained for use as cut bait for bottom fishing.
Belonidae Sp., juvenile. Fish collected with a bait net in coastal waters off Gonzaga Bay, Baja California, June 2016. Length: 5.8 cm (2.3 inches). Catch and photo courtesy of Chris Wheaton, Loreto, Baja California Sur. Identification courtesy of H.J. Walker, Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA.
There are eight members of the Needlefish or Belonidae Family presented in the fish identification section of this website:
Atlantic Needlefish, Strongylura marina
California Needlefish, Strongylura exilis
Flat Needlefish, Ablennes hians
Houndfish, Tylosus crocodilus
Keeljaw Needlefish, Tylosurus acus melanotus
Keeltail Needlefish, Platybelone argalus
Pacific Agujón, Tylosurus pacificus
Redfin Needlefish, Strongylura notata