Lancetfish — Facts, Images, And Warnings

The Lancetfish — perhaps you’ve never heard of it? Perhaps you should have? Perhaps you’ve seen the recent viral images of a lancet fish that washed up on the shores of North Carolina? And are wondering if they’re real or not? Have you ever seen anything like THAT before?

Lots of important questions. πŸ™‚ Perhaps this article can answer some of them for you, providing facts, images, and something along the lines of a warning.


Looking something like a “lance” (unsurprisingly), the predatory fishes are actually not as uncommon as one might assume — despite the fact that they look perhaps quite a bit like one of those strange deep sea fish that you sometimes hear interesting things about. While they may not be all that uncommon, they are rather strange, not that much is known about them, and they represent the only still surviving genus (Alepisaurus) in the family Alepisauridae.

Lancet fish

Something else to note about them, they are fairly large — growing up to 6.6 feet in length (2 meters, for those on the wrong side of the pond). The generic scientific name literally means “without lizard” — which I guess makes sense. (?!!?)

There’s really not all that much else known about them — the two currently recognized species (Alepisaurus brevrostris and Alepisaurus ferox) are distributed worldwide; the only oceans/seas that they’re not found in are the polar ones; they’re caught relatively often as by-catch when long-line fishing for tuna.

Lancet fish

The large mouths and sharp teeth that lancetfish possess strongly suggest a predatory way of life — but that’s not known for sure, and some other findings seem to contradict that line of thought. For instance, their watery muscles don’t seem to be particularly well-suited to fast swimming and/or long pursuit — so perhaps ambush predators. Which would make sense given their very narrow body profile and silvery coloration — allowing for some concealment of presence, and hard to predict movement.

It’s hard to say though until the behavior has actually been observed. Stomach content studies have found, largely, “planktonic crustaceans, squid, and salps, as well as other fish”. They also have been noted as being cannibalistic, interestingly. They, in turn, are preyed upon by “opah, sharks, albacore, yellowfin tuna, and fur seals.”

Lancet fish North Carolina

For those looking at these pictures and think “Mmmmmm”, I’ve got bad news for you — while the meat is certainly edible, it’s also watery and gelatinous. Which, admittedly, I think sounds good. πŸ™‚ Probably not to everyone’s taste though.

A final note — the reproductive life of the lancetfish is more-or-less a mystery. Strangely, the gonads of the adolescents are hermaphroditic, but there’s been no evidence of hermaphroditism in the adults.


Image Credit: NOAA; Screen Capture

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