Common name: Needlefishes, Longtoms


Needlefishes have slender, stream-lined bodies, and very long jaws filled with very sharp teeth. They are voracious predators and feed mostly on small fishes.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Needlefishes, BELONIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 16 Apr 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

The family Belonidae contains 10 genera with 45 species worldwide. Eleven species in four genera occur in Australian waters. One species, the Stout Longtom, Tylosurus gavialoides, is endemic to Australia.

Family Distribution

Longtoms live in surface waters of all tropical and temperate oceans. Although most species inhabit inshore and offshore marine waters, some are found in estuaries and even in freshwater.

Family Description

Meristic characters: Dorsal fin rays 11-43; Anal fin rays 12-39; Pectoral fin rays 5-15; Pelvic fin rays 6; Precaudal vertebrae 33-65; Caudal vertebrae 19-41. Elongate, somewhat cylindrical stream-lined fishes with very long upper and lower jaws containing needle-sharp teeth. They lack fin spines and the single dorsal fin and the anal fins are positioned far back on the body. The nostrils are placed in pit anterior to the eyes. Scales small, cycloid, deciduous; lateral line runs from the pectoral fin base, along the ventral body margin.

Family Size

Maximum size for the family is about 2 m, although a few species are much smaller.

Family Colour

Belonids are pelagic fishes that live in surface waters. They are usually greenish to bluish above and silvery-white on the belly so that they are not easily seen from above or below. This protective colour pattern or counter-shading allows longtoms to "hide" from both their predators and prey. Most species also have a darker stripe along their sides, and the lower jaw oftens has a red or orange tip.

Family Feeding

All species are voracious predators and mostly feed on other fishes.

Family Reproduction

The sexes are separate and fertilisation is external. Females lay many eggs, each with long tendrils that attach to floating debris and objects in the water. The larvae are pelagic and juveniles go through a 'halfbeak' stage with a short upper jaw.

Family Commercial

Longtoms are of minor commercial importance in Australia.

Family Conservation

Not evaluated.

Family Remarks

Needlefishes tend to leap and skitter at the surface. they are attracted to lights at night and people have been injured when accidentally struck by them. Belonidae is from the Greek belone meaning needle, in reference to the long, thin body shape and needle-like jaws.


Dianne J. Bray


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