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> Needlenose Fish, Written by me!
Posted: Apr 24 2006, 09:33 PM
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Needlenose Fish

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Common Names: Needlenose fish, needlefish, needle nose gar, freshwater garfish, Needlenose fish is the best seeing as they aren’t gars at all.

Scientific Name: Xenentodon Cancila

Size: Usually stops at about 9 inches. Reports of individuals getting up to 13 inches, yet I haven’t seen one this size since I’ve kept them.

Family: Belonidae (Needlefishes)

Distribution: Usually find in Asia and the Amazon, found all over in tropical climates. They are really find everywhere that there is warm water, are even a “junk” fish in Florida.

Natural Habitat: Slow moving streams and rivers. Usually lives in parts of rivers with overhanging vegetation, small pebble like gravel, clean water, and open swimming areas with some plants for shelter. Found in all water types, even marine. A lot of them that are caught in the ocean are they’re silvery cousins, sometimes though they are known to wander into marine conditions for short periods of time. Although they are able to temporarily live in brackish they should be kept in freshwater conditions. Many people say they have to have brackish, these people are often uninformed on these and will believe people’s stories and get them mixed with they’re silvery cousins.


Hardiness and Lifespan: Usually pretty hardy despite the reports out there, but does succumb to fungal infections very easily. Usually the lifespan is probably more than 5 years, haven’t truly found this out yet and no reports that I’ve seen investigating it.

Body: Long spear like body with two big triangle shape anal fins on top and bottom, roundish tail fin, usually a brown to peach color, and a long black stripe running through the middle of the body starting at the mouth ending at the very end of the body. In some specimens parts of the mouth, body and head may get pinkish red stripes or spots at certain times.


Tank Size: Can be kept in anything as small as a 30 gallon despite reports of having to be kept in 60 gallon tanks. The more you have the bigger tank you’ll need though. For a group of 3-4 a 55 gallon long would be an excellent choice. The basic rule I found effective is; 30 gallon for one, 40 for two, and 50 and up for 3 or more. A long tank is the best thing for them, wideness is somewhat important so they can move around but they usually just sit in one place and dart back and forth so width isn’t a huge concern.


Tank Layout: Long tank with gravel or sand bottom with pebbles placed randomly in spots. Driftwood on both ends and plant thickets in corners. Appreciate some floating plants to hide in and get away from the light overhead. My basic method is using a xP1 canister filter, placing the spray bar in the middle of the tank at the top so it’s creating a current, and attaching plants at the two ends of the bar. My needle nose usually swims towards the current then momentarily hides behind the plants and goes right back at it again.


Diet: Fish eater. In the wild it’s diet mainly consists of live foods like fish, large shrimp, and bugs. In a tank they usually eat fish more than anything and is sometimes a problem. A lot of people including myself have gotten them to eat freeze-dried krill and similar things from starving the fish for about 2 weeks. You should have fish on hand though just incase the starving thing doesn’t work. Another method is to make it seem like the “dead” food is actually alive, usually if they eat it once they will try again. If you can’t get them off fish or want them on fish you MUST quarantine the feeder fish and almost constantly medicate them. With large groups of needlenoses having them eat fish is the easiest thing to do. With mine I have it eating fish due to money issues and availability in they’re food, I can go to the bait shop and get 5 dozen minnows for 2 dollars while the krill is 6 dollars a bottle that lasts 3 weeks and is usually never in the stores. I quarantine my feeders in a 10 gallon, they are medicated 90% of the time with anti-parasite and anti-fungus from ******’s line of products. Parasites and fungus are the main concerns, feeders are almost always from the lake and WILL come with fungus and some parasites…when the needle nose eats them or is in the same tank with some that have it they have a very good chance of catching the fungus or whatever. If you get rosy reds in bulk from PetsMart or wherever they STILL have to be quarantined, with so many fish tightly crammed in a tiny space one will usually have something and with all the stress the fish are going through will lead them to catching the disease or parasite.


Sexing and Breeding: Not easily found, pinkish red colors on head, body, and beak during certain times in the year may represent it to being a male or female. The best chance at breeding is getting a pair is to buy a group of 3-5. They have been bred in the aquaria but not often. Eggs are poisonous. Usually chancy and happens out of the blue. Best bet to breeding them would be setting up a 60 gallon tank or larger, setting it up like they’re natural environments with driftwood and a lot of plants ...should have some open swimming places, some floating plants, sand substrate, and good water quality with a decent canister filter that doesn’t have a lot of output into the tank. Usually breeding is done in groups of 3 or more.



Habits and Behavior: Usually a fish that loves to be in groups of 3 or more. They do not have to be and can be kept alone, but if you have the room, money, and all similar things than you should try for a group. They also group with hijueta gars, once again hijueta gars are not a gar but a Characin. Kind of a chancy fish to have tank mates. Will usually go for a lot of the smaller or easily eaten fish but despite this it’s very skittish and easily picked on.

Sensitivities: Medications and fungus. Very easily catches fungus from feeders or whatever and treating it with meds is usually sometimes a risky situation. Other sensitivity is it is very easily stressed.

Tankmates: Peaceful if kept with the right fish. If it’s kept with small torpedo- like fish they will most likely take a snap. If you keep other fish make sure they will be big enough to keep with them without posing any harm to the needle noses at the same time. Needlenoses are very skittish and when there is a “bully” in the tank they go through a lot of stress .I find that most bichirs and hijuetas are the best tank mates out there. I have kept these fish together many times at all different sizes and they never once took a snap at each other.

Tank Zone: Top and middle. Will venture to the middle but likes to hang at the top under floating plants. Because of it's nature to rest at the top of the water a cover must be securely fitted. These fish have been known to leap through the air at amazing speeds, they're torpedo-like body and powerful tail allow this and may leap if given the chance or stressed.


Other Notes: These are very beautiful fish that have many qualities to them but must be kept right. They are very skittish, usually when first bought but also afterwards, so you must be careful you don’t excite and or scare them. Tankmates can easily stress these to where they break they’re beaks off running into the tank and or leading them to death.
They are commonly labeled a gar but are actually in the family belonidae, belonidae inhabitants are usually labeled fake gars as they VERY CLOSELY resemble true gars. they of course though are a perfect substitute for gars that otherwise would demand a large tank.
If you want to be successful with them try getting 3 of them with 3 Hijuetas in a 60 gallon or larger tank that’s preferably planted. As a note, hijuetas are the perfect tank mate and are almost the same in diet and habitat wise.

This may be a long profile but these fish are my “passion” and I have kept them numerous times. Not only are they my favorite fish freshwater wise, but I have had the most luck and had some fun with them too. I have witnessed them growing up and eating many different foods, co-existing with fish that people say won’t go well at all, and even one nine inch one flying right past me almost hitting me in the head.

They are poorly misunderstood and often wrong info is given out so I wanted to make sure I share my experience and knowledge on these creatures as best as I could.

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