Handfish FAQs

Learn more about Tasmania's Handfish


How big can they grow?

Handfishes are small - real small - with the Spotted and Ziebell's handfishes no larger than 14-15 cm (typically 10-12 cm) in length, and the red handfish even smaller (typically 7-9 cm).

Can they swim? 

They prefer to "walk" on their pectoral and pelvic fins rather than swim (they lack swim bladders which keep fish afloat, allowing them to swim), but they can swim/dart short distances in bursts when spooked.

What do they eat?

Small crustaceans, polychaete worms, and small molluscs.

Where do they live?

Spotted handfish live in south-eastern Tasmania (Derwent Estuary, Frederick Henry Bay, D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and parts of Storm Bay). Red Handfish are only now known from two locations in Frederick Henry Bay. Ziebell's Handfish are known from eastern and southern Tasmania - but have not been seen in over 10 years.

How do they reproduce?

They lay eggs. Usually the eggs are attached to an upright structure, like the base of seaweed, or a stalked ascidian. Breeding occurs in September and October. Eggs hatch after 6-7 weeks as tiny fully-formed handfish (there is no larval stage).

Are they related to Anglerfish? 

They are members of the group of fish including deep sea anglerfish (Order Lophiiformes). You can read more about themĀ here.

How many Handfish are left in the wild?

It is thought that there are fewer than 70 Red handfish and no more than 3000 Spotted handfish left in the wild. No Ziebell's sightings have been confirmed (with photos) since 2007, and no population estimate is available.

What's the fluffy thing on their head?

It's called an Illicium. In species related to the Handfishes, such as the Anglerfish, the Illicium is used to attract prey...but we're not sure what it is used for by handfishes. 

Why are they endangered?

Handfish face a number of threats - including introduced predators such as Northern Pacific Seastars, pollution, siltation, historical commercial dredge fisheries (at least for Spotted handfish), boat moorings, coastal development, and habitat decline (e.g. via pollution or increases in urchins which remove the seaweed that Red and Ziebell's handfish use for cover/protection).

How many species of handfish are there?

There are 14 species of handfish within Australia - they belong to the Family Brachionichthyidae). All except three of these species occur in the seas around Tasmania, Australia. 

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