There are 32 species in the Belonidae family of needlefish, many of which are also known as longtoms or sea gar. They are often observed by coastal anglers, and some are caught frequently. Needlefish commonly skip (or leap) across the surface when hooked, when alarmed, and when attracted to lights at night.

The most distinguishing features of the needlefish are its elongated upper and lower jaws, which have numerous needlelike teeth. The upper jaw is shorter than the lower jaw; however, in two species the lower jaw is shorter. It has a slender, elongate body that is silver on the flanks and bluish or dark green along the back and also features small scales and a wide mouth.

One of the most widely dispersed species is the houndfish (Tylosurus crocodilus crocodilus), which is found nearly worldwide in tropical and warm temperate waters. It is common in the western Atlantic, ranging from New Jersey southward through the Caribbean to Brazil.

The houndfish averages 2 feet or less in length but occasionally attains a length of 4 to 5 feet. It is also known as hound needlefish, crocodile needlefish, and crocodile longtom, and the all-tackle world record is 7.5 pounds (the record for the Mexican houndfish is 21 pounds, 12 ounces).

Compared to other, generally smaller members of the family, the houndfish has a relatively short, stout beak. It is found singly or in small groups, readily strikes artificial lures, and is exciting to take on rod and reel.

The Atlantic needlefish (Strongylura marina) is a smaller species that inhabits coastal areas and mangrove-lined lagoons and also enters freshwater. It occurs in the western Atlantic and ranges from the Gulf of Maine to Brazil. It is absent from the Bahamas and Antilles. It grows to 31 inches and can weigh slightly more than 3 pounds.


Most needlefish live in tropical seas, a few inhabit cooler waters of temperate regions, and some stray occasionally into freshwater.