Green bones and stab wounds: watch out for the needlefish

Ever accidentally swallowed a fish bone? Not the best feeling. Well this isn’t an issue when eating a needlefish, because just like aliens (probably) they have bright greeny blue bones.

You still might swallow one, but there’ll be no sympathy from me. I mean they’re green bones against white flesh; you should be able to spot them.

Needlefish bones
Photo source anka.anka28

So what exactly is a needlefish? Also commonly called a garfish, scientific name (Belone belone), they’re an excellent eating fish found in the Northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean seas.

Their green skeletons are caused by a pigment called Biliverdin.

With long thin bodies ending in a piercing beak and sharp teeth, they really look like a needle with fins. A really long, terrifying needle considering they can reach up to 1.2m in length and cause deeper and more damaging stabs and jabs.

Needlefish swim fast, up to 60km/h, and have a habitat of leaping out of the water, especially towards light. Unfortunately this has repeatedly led to fisherman, surfers, canoers and even windsurfers crossing with a needlefish’s hurtling path and becoming punctured by their pointed jaws.

Needlefish swimming
Photo source
Photo source: Courier-Post

There’s even a sad report of a pregnant dolphin being killed from a needlefish stab wound to the lung.

Another oddity of the needlefish is the shape of their jaws as juveniles. While the adults have a perfectly pointed mouth, young fish have a stumped upper jaw, like it’s just been snapped off.

This is most likely due to food availability with the ‘half beak’ form in juveniles suitable for their more plankton heavy diet and the ‘needle beak’ form more suitable for the fish heavy diet adopted by the adults.

So all the way from their green insides to their sharp exterior, these pointy poissons are definitely odd and definitely deserve their place here on odd organisms.

halfbeaks and needles
Photo source: Wikispaces

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 6.26.54 pm References

Boughton, D. A., Collette, B. B., & McCune, A. R. (1991). Heterochrony in jaw morphology of needlefishes (Teleostei: Belonidae). Systematic Biology40(3), 329-354.

Jüttner, F., Stiesch, M., & Ternes, W. (2013). Biliverdin: the blue-green pigment in the bones of the garfish (Belone belone) and eelpout (Zoarces viviparus).European Food Research and Technology236(6), 943-953.

Arronte, J. C., Pis-Millan, J. A., & Perez, C. (2005). Injury to an Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) Caused by Needlefish Impalement.Aquatic Mammals31(2), 184-186.

Rouvillain, J. L., Donica, A., Gane, C., Zekhnini, C., Garron, E., & Uzel, A. P. (2013). Windsurfing hazard caused by needlefish. European Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery & Traumatology23(2), 295-297.


  1. thanks so much for this post! I had picked up a pack of frozen needle fish steaks for the first time. And was about to cook it when I noticed the bluish green bones. I was almost about to throw the fish away when i decided to google to see if there was a description of this fish anywhere! thank you – your post saved my lunch! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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