Potentially Misidentified Species:
Two other common and very similar species of western Atlantic
Strongylura occur alongside Strongylura marina in the IRL:
Strongylura notata and Strongylura timucu. Until the late 1960s,
S. timucu was largely considered to be synonymous with S. marina (Berry
and Rivas 1962). Collette (1968) notes that S. notata differs from S.
marina and S. timucu in having fewer anal rays and fewer predorsal
scales, and internal examination also reveals fewer vertebrae and other
distinguishing skeletal features. Internal examination also reveals that both
gonads are developed in S. tumucu while only the right gonad is
developed in S. marina. Typically, S. timucu is also somewhat
darker in coloration than S. marina (Hoese and Moore 1977).
Strongylura notata differs externally from S. marina, possessing 13-15
dorsal rays and 13-16 anal rays (Hoese and Moore 1977).
Three additional genera of belonid fish also occur in the western Atlantic,
Ablennes, Belone, and Tylosurus (Berry and Rivas 1962).
II. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Strongylura marina occurs in the western Atlantic from Maine to southern
Brazil, throughout the coastal Gulf of Mexico, and the western Caribbean Sea
including Cuba and Jamaica. It also occurs in a number of coastal rivers and
streams and is capable of ascending well upstream into fresh water (Hoese and
Moore 1977, Boschung 1992, Nordlie 2003).
Fuller (2008) indicates that S. marina also occurs as an introduced
species within the portions of the Tennessee River drainage basin in Alabama and Tennessee.
Introduction was reportedly by means of an artificial canal that that was
opened in 1985 (Etnier and Starnes 1993).
Nordlie (2003) reports that S. marina is among the 15 most
widely-distributed fish species from Atlantic and Gulf Coast estuaries of North
Strongylura marina occupies estuarine and coastal waters throughout the IRL region.
III. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY
Age, Size, Lifespan:
IGFA (2001) reports a maximum total length for the species as 111 cm and a
maximum published weight of 2,340 g, although most specimens are much smaller
than this. Hoese and Moore (1977) indicate a more typical maximum length of 61
Although widely distributed, Atlantic needlefish typically do not occur as
numerical dominants of most ichthyofaunal collections in which they occur
(e.g., Orth and Heck 1980, Idelberger and Greenwood 2005).
Strongylura marina is oviparous, and the demersal eggs may be found
attached to submerged plants and other suitable surfaces by long filamentous
tendrils on the egg surfaces (Breder and Rosen 1966). Spawning activity is
likely confined to shallow inshore habitats with algal mats or other suitable
submerged vegetation (Berry and Rivas 1962, Foster 1974). The fertilized eggs
are spherical and large, averaging around 3.5 mm in diameter (Breder and Rosen
1966, Hardy 1978).
Reproductive seasonality is dictated by region. Foster (1974) reports a late
spring to early summer spawning season in the Potomac River, while Hardy (1978)
notes the appearance of near-ripe females in mid-February in Texas.
The internal reproductive anatomy of Strongylura marina is unusual in
that only the right gonad is developed in mature animals (Hoese and Moore
1977). Hardy (1978) suggests that reproductive maturity occurs in the second
year of life.
The newly hatched larvae are large, averaging 9.2-14.4 mm TL (Foster 1974,
Hardy 1978). Boughton et al. (1991) describe ontogenic changes in jaw
morphology exhibited by Strongylura marina and other needlefish species.
Newly hatched larvae possess short jaws of equal length, and juveniles of
35-50 mm or less exhibit a "halfbeak" form in which the upper jaw remains short
but the upper jaw is elongated. The upper jaw elongates in time and larger
juveniles soon take on a "needlenose" morphology in which the upper and lower
jaws are essentially equal in length.
IV. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES
Warlen and Burke (1990) note that Strongylura marina is among the
predatory fish that occupy North Carolina estuaries during warmer months but
migrate out of the estuaries with the fall onset of colder temperatures. Holt
and Holt (1983) also indicate that S. marina is at least somewhat
susceptible to cold temperature kills and they list the species as one that
suffered high morbidity during a 1982 cold snap at Port Aransas, TX.
The euryhaline nature of Strongylura marina is well documented.
Boschung and Hemphill (1960) noted that individuals have been collected more
than 600 km up the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Froese and
Pauly (2008) and Fuller (2008) indicate that Atlantic needlefish regularly
venture into fresh water, and Mettee et al. (1996) present evidence supporting
the claim that spawning adult populations occur upstream in several rivers in
the southeastern United States. Collette (1974) suggests that freshwater
populations of S. marina are self-sustaining within Florida's St. John's
River system, and Swift et al. (1977) indicated the possible existence of a
permanent population in the Apalachicola River.
Lovejoy and Collette (2001) note the existence of several feshwater species of
Strongylura and other belonids and hypothesize that they are the result
of multiple independent transitions to neotropical freshwater habitats.
V. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY
Needlefishes are swift predators that employ a ram-feeding, active pursuit
predation strategy similar to that of gars and barracudas. Gut analysis of
Strongylura marina from the northeastern Gulf of Mexico conducted by
Luczkovich et al. (2002) confirm that adults are predominantly piscivorous in
nature. Carr and Adams (1973) note an ontogenetic dietary shift in which
juveniles from 35-50 mm SL ate mostly (70%) shrimp, mysids, and amphipods and
30% fish, while large individuals were almost entirely piscivorous. Boughton
et al. (1991) report that this dietary shift coincides with the ontogenetic
change in jaw morphology (see above) from a “halfbeak” form (lower jaw longer
than upper jaw) to the “needlenose” form (upper and lower jaws equal in length)
typical of adults.
Potential competitors with Elops saurus for food resources is likely to
include a number of similarly sized piscivorous species, including tarpon,
bonefish, needlefish, and others.
Strongylura marina and other needlefish are common components in the
diets of large piscivorous fish such as tarpon, Megalops atlanticus
(Zale and Merrifield 1989). Gunter (1942) indicates that S. marina is
an occasional component in the diet of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
in Texas, and Cortes and Gruber (1990) list it as a component in the diet of
juvenile lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris).
The surface-swimming tendencies of S. marina also leave the species
vulnerable to avian predators. Gordon et al. (2000) report that S.
marina was one of the two fish species most frequently fed to Chesapeake
Bay fledgling black skimmers (Rynchops niger) by their parents. The
authors note that an 80% decline in S. marina and Atlantic menhaden
(Brevortia tyrannus) over the previous two decades coincided with an
equally precipitous drop in skimmer numbers during that same period. McEwan
and Hirth (1980) report Atlantic needlefish remains were identifiable in
droppings collected from in and around the nests of bald eagles (Haliaeetus
leucocephalus) in north-central Florida.
Bere (1936) reported several parasitic copepods that have been observed on
Strongylura from the Florida Gulf coast. Williams and Rogers (1972) describe
three species of monogenetic tremetodes of genus Ancyrocephalus that are
known to parasitize the gills of S. marina.
The Atlantic needlefish is a common inhabitant of shallow coastal and estuarine
habitats, including within mangrove margins and swimming over and around
seagrass meadows. Orth and Heck (1980) note that S. marina is one of
the larger mobile predatory fish found in lower Chesapeake Bay Eelgrass
(Zostera marina) meadows, and Klassen (1998) found it a notable
component of Indian River lagoon shoreline habitats. It spends most of its
time swimming at the surface using undulating anguilliform (eel-like) body
waves to propel itself (Liao 2002).
The countershaded body coloration of Atlantic needlefish is an adaptation that
is typical for a species that lives near the water's surface (Randall 1983).
Active Strongylura marina may be encountered during both day and night.
Sogard et al. (1989) reported that there was no consistent diel pattern
observed in the congener S. notata in Florida Bay, and suggested that
activity time may be more related to tidal patterns. The same may hold for
VI. SPECIAL STATUS
Strongylura marina appears to be of little economic importance in
Florida. It is a minor, incidental component of commercial and recreational
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Boughton DA, Collette BB, and AR McCune. 1991. Heterochrony in jaw morphology
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American Fisheries Society 102:511-540.
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skimmers associated with low food availability. Waterbirds: The International
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Gunter G. 1942. Contributions to the natural history of the bottlenose dolphin,
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and Adjacent Waters. Texas A&M University Press, College Station TX. 327 p.
Idelberger CF and MFD Greenwood. 2005. Seasonal variation in fish assemblages
within the estuarine portions of the Myakka and Peace Rivers, southwest
Florida. Gulf of Mexico Science, 2005:224-240.
IGFA. 2001. Database of IGFA angling records until 2001. International Game
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Klassen CA. 1998. The utilization of a Florida salt marsh mosquito impoundment
by transient fish species. M.S. Thesis, Florida Institute of Technology,
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Luczkovich JJ, Ward GP, Johnson JC, Christian RR, Baird D, Neckles H, and WM
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a seagrass food web. Estuaries 25:1143-1163.
McEwan LC and DH Hirth. 1980. Food habits of the bald eagle in north-central
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America, and comparisons with temperate estuaries of other continents. Reviews
in Fish Biology and Fisheries 13: 281-325.
Orth RJ and KL Heck Jr. 1980. Structural components of eelgrass (Zostera
marina) meadows in the lower Chesapeake Bay: Fishes. Estuaries 3:278-288.
Randall JE. 1983. Caribbean Reef Fishes. TFH Publications, NJ. 350 p.
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The Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. 354 p.
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Swift C., Yerger RW, and RR Parrish. 1977. Distribution and natural history of
the fresh and brackish water fishes of the Ochlockonee River, Florida and
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marine fishes into a North Carolina estuary. Estuaries 13:453-461.
Williams EH Jr. and WA Rogers. Ancyrocephalus cornutus sp. n. (Trematoda:
Monogenea) and a redescription of A. parvus Linton, 1940, from the Atlantic
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J. Masterson, Smithsonian Marine Station
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