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The freshwater garfish (Xenentodon cancila) is a species of bony fish belonging to the needlefish family Belonidae. Most commonly associated with fresh and occasionally brackish water habitats, this fish species is widespread throughout South and Southeast Asia. They primarily feed on crustaceans.
This Asian freshwater needlefish species is often confused with the distantly related North American freshwater gars of the family Lepisosteidae due to the close resemblance between the two. Both fishes have an elongated body and long, narrow beak-like jaws equipped with sharp teeth. Freshwater garfishes belong to the same family as marine needlefish known as the gar or garpike in Europe, even though both the marine needlefish and the freshwater garfish are remotely related to pikes or true gars. Nevertheless, the apparent morphological similarity of the two fish groups has led to the freshwater garfish being referred to by a variety of other common names such as the needlenose gar, freshwater gar, needlenose halfbeak, Asian freshwater needlefish, silver needlefish, or simply needlefish. However, they are much different in appearance than shortnose gars.
There's a lot more to learn about this freshwater garfish. Read on to discover the amazing world of this fish!
Freshwater garfish ((Xenentodon cancila), freshwater gar, or needlenose gar is a species of freshwater needlefish of the genera Xenentodon and family Belonidae.
The freshwater gar belongs to the class Actinopterygii which includes all ray-finned fishes. The scientific name of the fish is Xenentodon cancila.
The total population size of freshwater garfish is not available.
The freshwater gar is a tropical freshwater fish associated with freshwater habitats such as rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and canals. They may occasionally be found in brackish water habitats. Moreover, the freshwater gar is a popular aquarium fish.
The freshwater gar has a wide distribution throughout South and Southeast Asia, covering India, Sri Lanka, and the Malayan Peninsula. They can go up to a depth of about 6.5 ft (2 m) underwater and usually dwell over rock, gravel, or sandy areas. These gars inhabit both fresh and brackish water habitats but are predominantly freshwater fishes. In addition, this freshwater fish is widely seen in the home and public aquarium environment. They can easily thrive in an aquarium with fresh water, even though some aquarium hobbyists recommend adding salt to the water to achieve optimum water conditions for the fish.
Freshwater gars have been reported to occur singly or in pairs.
No information is available regarding the lifespan of freshwater gars in the wild. However, gars usually have a lifespan that varies from anywhere between five to more than 20 years.
Freshwater gars are oviparous which means that the female gar lays eggs. From what has been observed in the aquarium environment, the fish spawns in the morning, followed by the production of a small number of gar eggs which are about 0.1 in (0.2 cm) in diameter. The eggs are deposited among aquatic plants and attach to the plant leaves by means of sticky threads. Each female freshwater gar lays 12 eggs per day. It takes about a week for the eggs to hatch, and the fries that emerge measure around 0.4 in (1.2 cm) in length. No parental care has been reported among freshwater gars.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, the freshwater gar is of Least Concern.
Much like any other needlefish species, the bodies of freshwater gars are compressed and elongated. The jaws are long and beak-like, somewhat resembling a needle, inspiring the name needlenose gar. In addition, the needle-shaped jaws are equipped with sharp teeth.
The body is covered with scales. It is silvery-green on the upper side and becomes whitish below. A prominent silvery band with a dark outline runs horizontally along the flank on both sides of the body. The anal and dorsal fins are situated near the back of the body and close to the tail. Since the freshwater gar belongs to the class of ray-finned fishes, their fins have typical rays. There are about 15-18 dorsal soft rays and 16-18 anal soft rays. The bodies of the males and females are slightly different since the male's dorsal and anal fins have dark edges. They are much different in appearance to shortnose gars.
* Please note that this is an image of a shortnose gar, another fish in the family Belonidae. If you have an image of a freshwater garfish please let us know at [email protected].
Freshwater gar cannot really be considered cute as its elongated body and needle-shaped nose give the fish a neat and sleek look.
No specific information is available regarding how the freshwater gar communicates with its surroundings. However, like many other fish species, it is thought that the freshwater gar also uses the vibrations of its swim bladder to communicate with other members and perceive its environment.
Freshwater gar can grow to a maximum length of 16 in (40 cm), although the most common length is about 12 in (30 cm). The fish is around five times smaller than the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) of North America which can grow to a length of almost 6.5 ft (2 m). The spotted gar can grow more than twice the size of freshwater garfish.
The swimming speed of the freshwater gar is not available. However, the fish is capable of leaping into the air at up to 37 mph (60 kph). The fish mostly swims near the surface to hunt crustaceans and small fishes and seems to skip along on its tail on the water surface to escape predators.
The weight range of the freshwater gar is not available.
Freshwater gar males and females do not have any distinct names.
Like any other fish, a baby freshwater gar is called a fry.
Freshwater gar are known to feed on small fishes, frogs, and crustaceans. In their natural habitat, this fish predominantly eats crustaceans.
Even though the Asian freshwater needlefish may look all slim and shiny, the needlenose has a bad reputation for its needle-shaped long nose. Freshwater garfish are specifically dangerous at night as they are attracted to light sources. There have been reports of divers and night fishermen being attacked by the needlefish jumping into the air at high speed towards the light source. The long length beaks of the fish are capable of inflicting fatal wounds, often breaking off inside the victim's body.
Although the freshwater gar is popular around the world as an aquarium fish, it can be quite challenging to keep them. The fish tends to have a nervous behavior and prefers to eat live prey. Besides, it is quite a large fish and its natural diet requirements are not well understood. Even though the fish survives quite well in fresh aquarium water, some experts recommend that the water requires the addition of salt for maintaining optimum conditions. The confusions regarding the diet and habitat of freshwater gar make it quite a difficult pet.
The Asian freshwater garfish is locally known as Habarali or Yonna in Sri Lanka and Kokila in Assam, India.
The only economic significance of the Asian freshwater garfish is that it is used in the aquarium trade and supports minor fisheries.
The North American alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) has vascularized air bladders that function as lungs and help the fish to take gulps of air when they surface waters. The bladders supplement gill respiration and not only help the fish to break the surface and breathe air but also provide buoyancy. In addition, alligator gars can live in low oxygen waters where any other fish would normally die. Along with the ability to survive in low oxygen water, alligator gars can live out of water for a few hours.
The freshwater gar is very much like any other fish, except for the needle-like nose, making it stand out as the popular needlenose gar. The freshwater garfish attack pattern is also quite unique since they leap out of the water surface in response to a source of light, making the attack not much of an intentional one.
The Asian freshwater gar, in particular, is not known to have any special survival mechanisms against predators. However, members of the freshwater gar family of North America lay eggs containing a toxin that is highly poisonous to human beings. Even though it is a seemingly passive danger to humans, the toxicity of the eggs is a defense mechanism against predators like crustaceans.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish from our rainbow cichlid facts and monkfish facts pages.
You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable freshwater garfish coloring pages.
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