Largehead hairtail

Trichiurus lepturus family

Trichiuridae taxonomy

Trichiurus lepturus Linnaeus, 1758, South Carolina.

other common names

English: Atlantic cutlassfish; French: Poisson sabre commun; Spanish: Pez sable.

physical characteristics

Maximum length 47 in (120 cm) total length, commonly 20-39 in (50-100 cm). Body extremely elongate and strongly compressed, ribbon-like tapering to a point. No caudal fin. Eye large, contained 5-7 times in head length (head length divided by eye diameter equals 5-7). Mouth large with a cartilaginous process at tip of upper and lower jaws. Two or three pairs of enlarged fangs with barbs near tip of upper jaw and another pair near tip of lower jaw. Dorsal fin high and long, no notch between spinous and soft portions, three spines and 130-135 soft rays. Anal fin reduced to 100-105 minute spin-ules, usually embedded in the skin. Pectoral fins short; pelvic fins absent. Vertebrae numerous, 162-168. Fresh specimens steel blue with silvery reflection, color becoming silvery gray after death.


Tropical and temperate marine waters of the world if the eastern Pacific Trichiurus nitens is regarded as a synonym of T. lep-turus Nakamura and Parin, 1993.


Benthopelagic, continental shelf to 1,148 ft (350 m), occasionally in shallow waters and at the surface at night.


Juveniles and small adults form schools about 100 m above the bottom during the daytime and form loose feeding aggregations at night-time near the surface. Large adults feed on pelagic prey near the surface during the daytime and migrate to the bottom at night.

feeding ecology and diet

Young and immature fish feed mostly on krill, small planktonic crustaceans, and small fishes. Adults become more piscivorous and feed on a wide variety of fishes plus squids and crustaceans.

reproductive biology

In the Gulf of Mexico, spawning occurs offshore at depths greater than 151 ft (46 m). The fish mature at 2 years of age and a size of approximately 12 in (30 cm) preanal length for females and 11 in (28 cm) for males. Adult females produce 33,000-85,000 eggs. Eggs are pelagic with a diameter of 0.067-0.074 in (1.7-1.9 mm) and hatch in 3-6 days.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

An important food fish in many parts of the world. FAO catch statistics for 1991-2000 show catches of 867,145-1,631,253 tons (786,661-1,479,848 metric tons) per year by 44 countries in 11 FAO fishing areas. Caught with a variety of nets. Also taken by anglers; the all-tackle world record is an 8-lb (3.7-kg) fish taken off Rio de Janeiro. ♦

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