The Needle Nose Gar is a surface dwelling fish that resembles a twig floating in the water!

The Needle Nose Gar Xenentodon cancila is a long thin fish that can reach up to about 16 inches (40 cm) in length. It swims close to the surface and looks much like stick, so is sometimes referred to as a Stickfish. It is also called the Freshwater Garfish or Freshwater Gar, but it is not a gar at all. This species is actually one of the few freshwater members of the needlefish family. Other common names for it include Silver Needlefish, Asian Needlefish, and Needlenose Halfbeak. The common name of gar is used because there are similarities between this fish and the true gars. True gars are illegal to keep in many areas so this fish makes a good, legal substitute.

The Freshwater Garfish is a relatively timid, schooling fish, so does best kept in groups of 3 or more. Its mouth is full of rows of sharp teeth and that might make you think that this is an aggressive fish, but the Silver Needlefish really isn’t. Those teeth are used strictly to hold their live meals. It will grab its prey whole in its mouth, then adeptly maneuver it about to be swallowed.

Needle Nose Gars are fairly easy to care for and a good choice for an intermediate fish keeper. They do need a large tank and have a rather nervous behavior. Other inhabitants kept with these Needlefish should only be those that are a similar size. Tank mates need to be large enough so they cannot be swallowed by a needlefish, and this is larger than you may think. Freshwater Garfish are able to eat prey that is almost twice as thick as their bodies are. Care also needs to be taken when cleaning the tank. These fish have been known to inflict nasty and painful bites. Yes, they will “bite the hand that feeds them.”

Freshwater Garfish are also great jumpers so must have subdued lighting and a tightly secured lid. They will react to sudden changes in light, and then in agitation they will continuously hurdle them selves against the aquarium cover. There is a legend that the Needle Nose Gar can jump out of the water with such a burst of speed that it can actually kill a person.


Scientific Classification


Needle Nose Gar – Quick Aquarium Care

Aquarist Experience Level:Intermediate
Aquarium Hardiness:Moderately hardy
Minimum Tank Size:55 gal (208 L)
Size of fish – inches15.8 inches (40.01 cm)
Temperature:71.0 to 82.0° F (21.7 to 27.8 °C)

Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Needle Nose Gar Xenentodon cancila was described by Hamilton in 1822. They are very common throughout much of Southeast Asia; Sri Lanka,India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They have also been introduced into the rivers and lakes of Hawaii and their populations are growing. The species is listed on the IUCN Red Least Concern (LC).

This fish is also called the Freshwater Garfish. It is actually not a gar at all but is one of the few freshwater members of the needlefish family, Belonidae. It is the only species in the Xenentodon genus. Other common names it is known by are Silver Needlefish, Needlefish, Asian Needlefish, Asian Freshwater Needlefish, Needlenose Halfbeak, Freshwater Gar, and Garfish.

The Needle Nose Gar lives in social groups in the wild. They normally inhabits slow moving rivers, ponds, lakes, canals, and flooded forest areas This Needlefish can also migrate to brackish and marine environments. These fish normally hover at or near the surface of the water, waiting for prey to come into sight and exploded with great speed to attack. In nature they normally feed on fish and frogs, but will also eat insects and crustaceans.

  • Scientific Name: Xenentodon cancila
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They congregate in groups in the wild.
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Needle Nose Gar is a long thin fish that can grow up to 15.75 inches (40 cm). They are usually smaller in the aquarium however, only reaching about 12 inches (30 cm). They swim close to the surface and resemble a stick, so are sometimes referred to as a Stickfish. The mouth is very long, narrow, and full of sharp teeth. The teeth are used for grasping prey and then adeptly maneuvering it about to be swallowed.

The body of the Freshwater Garfish is a silvery green along the top becoming lighter towards its underside. There is a dark horizontal band running along its flanks. The dorsal and anal fins are positioned far back along the body, close to the tail. Males will often have anal and dorsal fins with a black edge.

  • Size of fish – inches: 15.8 inches (40.01 cm) – Usually smaller in the aquarium reaching about 12 inches (30 cm).
  • Lifespan: 8 years – These fish generally have a lifespan of 3 to 5 years in captivity, but have been known to live up to 8 years or more.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

Needle Nose Gars are fairly easy to care for and a good choice for an intermediate fish keeper. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this fish. Many people think this Needlefish is like the American gars. It is not, even though it is called a Freshwater Gar. There’s also misunderstanding and confusion about their size, nervous behavior, natural diet, optimal water conditions, and whether they need a brackish environment. The keeper needs to understand their housing needs, food requirements, and to use care in their maintenance.

These fish are grow pretty long, usually about about 12 inches (30 cm) in the aquarium, so a large tank is needed to house them. Having some experience is suggested because they do have a nervous behavior. They will react to sudden changes in light, and then in agitation will hurdle them selves against the aquarium cover. They can tolerate salt added to their aquarium, but these fish normally do great in regular freshwater. If you do add salt, make sure the salinity doesn’t get higher then a specific gravity of 1.002.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

The Needle Nose Gars are primarily carnivores, a predator that in the wild mainly eats fish and frogs, but will also eat insects and crustaceans. In the aquarium they can be feed meals of live shrimp, fish, crickets and even tadpoles. Some have been trained to eat frozen/defrosted shrimp or fish. If feeding live foods take care and quarantine the feeder fish for at least 7 days as they can introduce disease into your tank.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Flake Food: No
  • Tablet / Pellet: No
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): All of Diet
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet – They will eat live fish, shrimp, insects. and crustaceans.
  • Feeding Frequency: Weekly

Aquarium Care

The Freshwater Garfish needs the tank to have a large surface area. A high quality filter is necessary for these fish, but the output should be low enough in the tank not to create too much current at the surface. These fish can tolerate a salinity below 1.002, anything higher will cause health issues. A 25-30% water change should be done weekly. Care also needs to be taken when cleaning the tank. These fish have been known to inflict nasty and painful bites.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – Water change should be 25-30% weekly.

Aquarium Setup

The Needle Nose Gar inhabits the top region of the tank, so surface area is is much more important then depth with these large fish. Tank should be at least 48 inches long. A 55 gallon tank is recommended but a shorter tank with the same surface dimensions will work okay. A strong filter should be used because they are fed live foods and current should be kept to a minimum.

It is good to have floating plants and plants along the sides of the tank to cushion the Needle Nose from injuring it’s beak on the glass. Hard decor should be kept to a minimum to also prevent injury to the beak. This fish prefers subdued lighting. These fish also have a tenancy to jump when startled so a tight fitting lid is needed. Leaving a few inches from the lid to water level will help prevent jumping. Avoid sudden lighting changes as well, this will also cause the fish to jump.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gal (208 L) – The tank should be at least 48 inches long.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Small Gravel
  • Lighting Needs: Low – subdued lighting
  • Temperature: 71.0 to 82.0° F (21.7 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 79.0° F
  • Range ph: 7.0-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 5 – 20 dGH
  • Brackish: Sometimes – A freshwater tank is fine, but if you add salt keep the salinity has less than 1.002.
  • Water Movement: Weak
  • Water Region: Top – Needlefish swim at or near the surface of the water.

Social Behaviors

Needle Nose Gars are not aggressive but they are greedy predators that have been known to bite first, and then decide if what they bit was food. There are stories of mistaken identity where their keeper put their hand into the tank too quickly and was bitten because the fish thought it was feeding time. They do best in schools of three or more, and if other tank mates are too large to be swallowed by the needlefish, it should be safe.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Should be kept in groups of 3 or more.
    • Peaceful fish (): Monitor – Must be larger then what the Freshwater Gar can fit in its mouth.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Monitor
    • Monitor – Must be larger then what the Freshwater Gar can fit in its mouth.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat – is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

The dorsal and anal fins of the males will usually have a black edge.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Needle Nose Gar has been bred in captivity. They spawn in the morning, with the female depositing a small number of eggs on plants. The eggs adhere to the plants with a sticky thread. They hatch in 10 days with the fry being about 12 mm and ready to feed on small live foods.

This is what the good folks at have to say about a breeding experience with this fish: The planted tank used was about 70 gallons, the water had a pH of about 6.5, dH was 12-15 and the temperature ranged from 77 to 81 F. They spawn at dawn and each day for several days they will attach 5 to 15 eggs to the plants. The eggs hatch in about 10 days and can be raised on newly hatched brine shrimp and newborn livebearer.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

Fish Diseases

The biggest issue that most fish keepers have with the Needle Nose Gar is injury to its beak caused by it being startled and smashing into the sides of tank, decor, or the top with its great speed. As with most fish the Needle Nose Gar are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease.

Anything you add to your tank has the possibility of bringing disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance.

These fish are hardy and disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium. That being said there is no guarantee that you won’t have to deal with health problems or disease. Because these fish eat live food, disease can be passed to them from their foods. Make sure to quarantine live food before feeding.

A good thing about the Needle Nose Gar is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. When keeping more sensitive types of fish, it is common for all fishes to be infected even before the first warning signs can be noticed. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your fish the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy.A stressed fish will is more likely to acquire disease.

Knowing the signs of illness, and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. It is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Needle Nose Gars are commonly available.



 Xenentodon cancila (Wroclaw zoo) (Image Credit: Guérin Nicolas, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)