Saturday, June 19, 2010


Image from Aquaportal
Fish with hands? You bet! There are 5 genera and 14 living species of handfish, all of which are pretty rare and difficult to study. Only four examples of the pink handfish have even been found, the last being in 1999. Another species is known only from a single fish... caught in the 19th century. Overall, differentiating between distinct species has been difficult because of the lack of specimens. Taxonomically, the are all members of the family Brachionichthyidae, which takes its name from the Latin words for both arm, (bracchium) and fish (ichthys). They belong to the overall order Lophiiformes, which also includes those terrifying looking deep sea anglerfish.

So what do we know about the elusive and interesting Handfishes? Well, as previously mentioned, there are 14 species, nine of which were just recently named and identified, including the aforementioned Pink Handfish. The Spotted Handfish is a previously known species, and is the best studied of the group... though it is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. All Handfishes make their homes on the shallow sea floors off the coasts of Australia and Tasmania. They use their hand-like flippers to crawl across the bottom, rather than swim. Though their range is limited now, their relatives were walking the sea floors worldwide about 50 million years ago.

Handfish are not particularly abundant because it is believed that they do not reproduce as often as other fish, nor do they lay as many eggs. They are not affected well by environment changes and thus are at a great risk for extinction. And while one would think that their slow movement would allow them to be caught and devoured with ease, it is suspected that they have a certain level of toxicity to them, which acts as a pretty effective defense mechanism. Handfish are relatively small, growing no larger than 12cm in length.

Thanks to Jon for the suggestion!

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