Spotted Handfish


Spotted Handfish
Image: Rick Stuart-Smith


Spotted Handfish Facts


  • The most noteworthy fact about the Spotted Handfish is their moderate air of mystery. This occurs because we still do not have detailed information about the species. They’re a very rare ocean species, and not well studied due to this fact. Yet what we do know about them fascinates marine biologists.
  • Their name derives from the presence of rather highly adapted pectoral fins. These distinctive fins resemble human hands and the fish uses them to “walk” along the ocean floor! While they remain fully capable of swimming, of course, they actually “walk” more than they swim.
  • Due to their rarity, the IUCN lists them on their Red List as Critically Endangered. Yet the species isn’t just rare in numbers, they also inhabit an extremely limited territorial range. They only inhabit the estuary of the Derwent River, in Tasmania, and surrounding areas. Sadly, as a result, they’re highly vulnerable to many dangers.

Spotted Handfish
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Spotted Handfish Physical Description


The interesting and quite different Spotted Handfish ranks as a most unusual creature.  Most of all, their specialized pectoral fins cause them to stand out from other fish. These human hand-shaped fins serve as means of locomotion…but along the ocean floor, instead of via swimming!

While they possess distinctive features, the species remains a physically small one. Individuals rarely exceed 4.7 in (12 cm) in length, and most stay much smaller than that.

Their bodies display a cream colored background, and numerous spots cover the bodies. These typically display as either light brown or yellow-brown. The pattern and number of these spots often varies significantly between individuals.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Lophiiformes

Family: Brachionichthyidae

Genus: Brachionichthys

Species: B. hirsutus

Spotted Handfish
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Spotted Handfish Distribution, Habitat, and Ecology


The Spotted Handfish has a quite limited and precise territory range. They only inhabit the estuary of the Derwent River in Australia and nearby regions. Therefore, the lack of complete information about the Spotted Handfish occurs because of their scarcity, not inaccessibility.

While limited, their habitat consists of easily accessed depths. They live near the ocean floor, at shallow depths that do not exceed 98 ft (30 m), and typically stay much less.

While experts aren’t certain of their diet in the wild, they believe the fish feeds on shrimp, small shellfish, and amphipods. Their mating habits also remain unknown, except for the fact that spawning occurs during September and October.

Due to their limited and vulnerable range, they remain highly threatened by climate change and possible habitat loss. They also face threats from an introduced species of starfish.

Todd Sain Sr.