Creature Feature: Spotted Handfish

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Common Facts:

Scientific name -Brachionichthys hirsutus

Size – 10-15 cm

Diet – Small crustacea and worms

It’s not often that you find a fish that would rather walk than swim. But that’s exactly how it is for the Spotted Handfish. These rare fish, prefer to use their pectoral and ventral fins to pull themselves along the sea bottom, rather than swim. Hence the name, Spotted Handfish.

It’s ‘paired fins’ are not the only feature that make the Spotted Handfish a distinctive species. They are pear-shaped, cream colored and have an array of brown and yellow-brown spots—each individual fish has a pattern that is unique to them. They also have a lure above their mouth that is thought is be used a way to entice prey, but this has yet to be proven.

“The Spotted Handfish is a bottom dwelling fish that lives in coarse to fine silt and sand at depths of 2-30 metres.” They typically reproduce during the months of September and October by laying up to 250 eggs on objects connected to the bottom of the sea. The female Spotted Handfish will then stand guard over the eggs for 7-8 weeks until they hatch. Once they are hatched, the new fish are on their own. But they don’t venture far—they normally stay in the same area they were born for the rest of their lives.

The Spotted Handfish is one of the most endangered marine fish in the world. They have undergone a massive decline in recent decades. “Although unproven, it is thought that the introduction of the northern Pacific seastar to Tasmania at this time may be the key to the decimation of the hand fish population.” The seastars are predators of shellfish and many believe that they may eat the handfish eggs or the sea squirts where the eggs are sometimes attached. “This species is under added threat from its vastly reduced population, limited dispersal, restricted distribution and low reproductive rate.” Conservation efforts are currently underway.


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