Xenentodon cancila

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Freshwater garfish
Xenentodon cancila (Wroclaw zoo)-1.JPG
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Beloniformes
Family: Belonidae
Genus: Xenentodon
Species: X. cancila
Binomial name
Xenentodon cancila
(F. Hamilton, 1822)
  • Belone cancila (F. Hamilton, 1822)
  • Esox cancila F. Hamilton, 1822

Xenentodon cancila (freshwater garfish) is a species of needlefish found in freshwater and brackish habitats in South and Southeast Asia.[1]

Common names[edit]

As a reasonably popular aquarium fish Xenentodon cancila, has been traded under a variety of common names, including needlefish,[2] silver needlefish,[3] Asian freshwater needlefish,[2] needlenose halfbeak,[4] freshwater gar,[4] needlenose gar and numerous others. While belonging to the same family as the marine needlefish known in Europe as gar or garpike, Belone belone,[5] these fish are much more distantly related to other fishes sometimes called gars (such as the North American gars and South American pike characins).[4] In Assam it is locally known as Kokila.


The freshwater garfish is widely distributed across South and Southeast Asia from India and Sri Lanka to the Malaysian Peninsula.[3]


In common with other needlefish, this species has an elongate body with long, beak-like jaws filled with teeth.[5] The dorsal and anal fins are positioned far back along the body close to the tail.[5] The body is silvery-green, darker above and lighter below with a dark band running horizontally along the flank.[1] Slight sexual dimorphism exists, the male fish often having anal and dorsal fins with a black edge.[3][5] It reaches a length of 40 cm (16 in).[1]


While aquarium books tend to describe this fish as a predator that eats animals such as fish and frogs, its natural diet appears to consist almost entirely of crustaceans.[3]


This species is oviparous.[3] In aquaria at least, spawning takes place in the morning, with small numbers of eggs being deposited among plants.[3] The eggs are about 3.5 mm (0.14 in) in diameter and are attached to plant leaves with sticky threads about 20 mm (0.79 in).[3] The eggs take ten days to hatch, at which point the fry are almost 12 mm (0.47 in) long.[3] At this point they will eat small live foods including week-old labyrinth fish.[3]

Human significance[edit]

Freshwater needlefish support minor fisheries and are also traded as aquarium fish.[1]

In the aquarium[edit]

The freshwater needlefish is one of several of needlefish species kept in public and home aquaria.[5] It has been kept by European aquarists since 1910,[5] and was first bred in captivity at the Biological Station Wilhelminenberg, Austria in 1963.[3] Xenentodon cancila is generally considered quite a difficult species to maintain because of its large size, nervous behaviour, and preference for live foods.[2] Alongside misunderstandings of the natural diet of these fish,[6] there has been confusion over the optimal water conditions required by this species when kept in home aquaria, with the addition of salt to the water often being recommended.[4] These fish do perfectly well in freshwater aquaria.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2013). "Xenentodon cancila" in FishBase. May 2013 version.
  2. ^ a b c Monks N: Straight to the point: the Beloniformes. Practical Fishkeeping, October 2005
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Riehl, R; Baensch, H (1996). Aquarium Atlas (vol. 1). Voyageur Press. ISBN 3-88244-050-3. 
  4. ^ a b c d Monks, Neale (editor) (2006). Brackish Water Fishes. Tropical Fish Hobbyist. ISBN 0-7938-0564-3. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Sterba, G (1962). Freshwater Fishes of the World. Vista Books. p. 609pp. 
  6. ^ a b Monks N: Pocket-sized Pikes. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, April 2007