Fishes from this group are elongate with
extended jaws that form a long, fragile beak (Robins & Ray
1986). They bear only one dorsal and one anal fin placed far
back on the body, no finlets, and pelvic fins are on the abdomen.
Scales are tiny, and the lateral line runs along the lower edge
of the body. All species are bluish to greenish dorsally, with
white or silver flanks and abdomen. The dorsal, caudal and anal
fins of S. notata are orange to reddish. Both dorsal
and anal fins exhibit 13-15 rays, and the opercle or gill cover
bears a characteristic vertical black bar along its front edge.
Like several other belonid species, the upper jaw is slightly
shorter than the lower.
Potentially Misidentified Species:
In addition to the redfin needlefish, two
other species of Strongylura are found in the IRL:
the Atlantic needlefish, S.
marina; and the timucu, S. timucu. Both species
reach 61 cm in length. The Atlantic needlefish has a bluish
caudal fin and pale head (Robins & Ray 1986). Dorsal and
anal fin ray counts are 14-17 and 16-20, respectively. The timucu
is similar in appearance to S. marina, but with a broad
dusky stripe behind the eye and a darker area in front of the
eye. Both species lack the orange/red coloration on the fins
and the dark band on the gill cover characteristic of S.
II. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
The range of S. notata extends
from Florida and Bermuda throughout the Caribbean to Central
America (Robins & Ray 1986). It is a coastal species, preferring
bays and inlets including mangrove and seagrass habitats.
The redfin needlefish is found
throughout the IRL system, and is most abundant in mangrove
and seagrass habitats.
III. LIFE HISTORY AND
Age, Size, Lifespan:
The maximum age of the redfin needlefish
is unknown, and lifespan and growth may vary with food availability
and environmental factors such as temperature, salinity and
dissolved oxygen. The maximum reported size for S. notata
is 61 cm, but most specimens do not exceed 38 cm (Robins &
The redfin needlefish is a common inhabitant
of mangrove and seagrass ecosystems, swimming alone or in small
schools. Trawl data for Florida Bay populations report catches
of S. notata exceeding 99.9 individuals per 1000 m-2
in some locations (Powell et al. 2007).
Reproduction & Embrology:
Little information is documented for the
life history of S. notata. Breder (1959) reported that
the species prefers to spawn among the prop roots of the red
mangrove, Rhizophora mangle.
Fertilized eggs are demersal, with external adhesive filaments
attached to the chorion, or outer membrane. The approximate
diameter of eggs at hatching is 12 mm. Spawning most likely
occurs in all seasons, but is elevated in spring and summer,
as evidenced by the surge of juveniles caught throughout Florida
Bay in May through July (Powell et al. 2007).
IV. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES
The redfin needlefish is a tropical to
subtropical species, preferring warm coastal waters. Little
information exists concerning the temperature tolerances for
the species, but individuals have been collected from waters
ranging from 21 to 32°C (Arceo-Carranza et al.
2004). High spawning occurrences in the spring and summer months
(Powell et al. 2007) may be due in part to increased
As a coastal and estuarine species, S.
notata experiences wide fluctuations in salinity seasonally
as a result of increased precipitation, runoff and evaporation.
Individuals can thrive in a large range of salinities, and have
been collected from waters between 0 and 110 ppt (Arceo-Carranza
et al. 2004, Vega-Cendejas & de Santillana 2004).
Like S. marina, this species is known to enter freshwater
areas (Robins & Ray 1986).
V. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY
All needlefish species are predators, feeding
on a variety of pelagic and demersal organisms (Arceo-Carranza
et al. 2004, Robins & Ray 1986). The prey of the
redfin needlefish includes: fishes - especially other belonids,
pipefishes, mullet, anchovies and cichlids; crustaceans - including
shrimps, crabs and amphipods; polychaete worms; and insects
(Arceo-Carranza et al. 2004, Chavez-López 1998,
Ley et al. 1994, Reid 1954). The feeding behavior of
S. notata is similar to that of the great barracuda,
It lunges and strikes at its prey via "ram feeding" (Porter
& Motta 2004). During this process, the needlefish orients
itself parallel to its prey before quickly striking to pin the
animal in its jaws. A series of rapid movements in which the
needlefish releases the prey, lunges again and recaptures the
prey serves to turn the food to a head-first orientation. Once
the organism is properly positioned, it is consumed through
suction transport. This food positioning behavior has only been
observed for fish prey, and is most likely less crucial during
the capture of invertebrates, which vary greatly in body form.
Redfin needlefish are likely prey for a
variety of larger birds and fishes. However, like many other
shallow-water organisms, S. notata employs countershading
(Robins & Ray 1986) to lower predation risk. Blue to green
coloration on the dorsal surface allows the fish to blend in
with the surrounding water, thereby camouflaging itself from
overhead predators like birds. Contrasting white or silver on
the abdomen blends with the color of the sky, concealing S.
notata from predators that may attack from below.
While S. notata has no
known obligate relationships with other species, it is commonly
found with a variety of other co-occurring organisms in seagrass
and/or mangrove ecosystems. For extensive lists of other species
found throughout the ecosystems in which the redfin needlefish
occurs, please refer to the Habitats of the IRL link at the
left of this page.
VI. SPECIAL STATUS
Arceo-Carranza, A, Franco-López, J, Waggy, GL & R
Chavez-López. 2004. Trophic comparison of two species
of needlefish (Belonidae) in the Alvarado lagoonal system, Vercruz,
Mexico. Gulf Carib. Res. 16: 81-88.
Breder, CM, Jr. 1959. Observations on
the spawning behavior and egg development of Strongylura
notata (Poey). Zoologica. 44: 141-148.
Chavez-Lopez, R. 1998. Caracterización
ecológica de la comunidad de peces asociada a praderas
de Ruppia maritima en el Sistema Lagunar de Alvarado,
Veracruz. Master's Thesis. Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad
Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. 145 pp.
Ley, JA, Montague, CL & CC McIvor.
1994. Food habits of mangrove fishes: a comparison along estuarine
gradients in northeastern Florida Bay. Bull. Mar. Sci.
Porter HT and PJ Motta. 2004. A comparison
of strike and prey capture kinematics of three species of piscivorous
fishes: Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus), redfin
needlefish (Strongylura notata), and great barracuda
(Sphyraena barracuda). Mar. Biol. 145: 989-1000.
Powell, AB, Thayer, G, Lacroix, M &
R Cheshire. 2007. Juvenile and small resident fishes of Florida
Bay, a critical habitat in the Everglades National Park, Florida.
NOAA Professional Paper NMFS 6: 105-108. National Marine
Fisheries Service. Seattle, WA. USA.
Reid, GK, Jr. 1954. An ecological study
of the Gulf of Mexico fishes in the vicinity of Cedar Key, Florida.
Bull. Mar. Sci. 4: 1-94.
Robins, CR & GC Ray. 1986. A field
guide to Atlantic coast fishes of North America. Houghton
Mifflin Co. New York. USA. 354 pp.
Sogard, SM, Powell, GVN & JG Holmquist.
1989. Utilization by fishes of shallow, seagrass-covered banks
in Florida Bay: 1. Species composition and spatial heterogeneity.
Environ. Biol. Fish. 24: 53-65.
Vega-Cendejas, ME & MH de Santillana.
2004. Fish community structure and dynamics in a coastal hypersaline
lagoon: Rio Lagartos, Yucatan, Mexico. Estuar. Coast. Shelf
Sci. 60: 285-299.
Report by: LH Sweat, Smithsonian Marine Station
at Fort Pierce
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Page last updated: 3 August 2009
© 2009 Smithsonian Institution