The spotted ratfish has characteristics of both bony fish and cartilaginous fish. It is known to be a "missing link" between bony fish and sharks.
  • Size

    1-4 feet (30-122 cm)
  • Diet

    Shrimp, clams, worms, sea stars, mollusks and fish
  • Range

    Occurs in all of the world’s oceans with the exception of Arctic and Antarctic waters
  • Habitat

    On or near muddy bottoms

Physical Characteristics

  • Characterized by a large head and an elongated body that tapers to a whip-like tail.
  • Ranges in size from 1-4 feet (30-122 cm).
  • Skin is smooth and rubbery lacking any scales or denticles. Bronzy brown on top with large bluish-white spots and silvery on the underside of the body.
  • Small and blunt rodent-like snout has teeth formed into three pairs of tooth plates tending to protrude from the mouth like a rodent’s incisors. Hence the common name “ratfish” or ”rabbitfish.”
  • Large green eyes and a small mouth.
  • Pectoral (side) fins are large.
  • Long venomous spine before the first dorsal fin. Care should be taken in handling this species as venomous spines can cause painful wounds. There is a second dorsal fin that merges with the tapered (caudal) tail fin.
  • Sexually dimorphic; male and female are different in appearance. Adult male possesses two obvious secondary sexual characteristics: a bulbous or club-shaped knob on top of its head above the eye and pelvic claspers extending from the posterior edge of the pelvic fins.

Animal Fact

The spotted ratfish defends itself with a venomous spine.

Diet / Feeding

  • Diet consists of shrimp, clams, worms, sea stars, mollusks and fish. Uses tooth plates to crush hard-bodied prey such as crabs, clams, and echinoderms.

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs in all of the world’s oceans with the exception of Arctic and Antarctic waters.
  • Found near the bottom at depths of about 3,000 feet (913 m), usually on or near muddy bottoms.
  • Tends to move inshore at night and inhabits shallower water during the spring.

Reproduction & Growth

  • At each spawning the female produces two eggs after internal fertilization.
  • It can take her up to thirty hours to extrude her eggs.
  • Eggs may hang from the female’s body by long filaments for 4-6 days.
  • Once detached from the female, eggs settle to the ocean floor where they take about a year to hatch.

Conservation Status

  • “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.

Additional Information

  • Considered a missing link between bony fish and sharks due to characteristics of both classes of fish. Gill openings are like bony fish’s but reproduces like sharks. Skeleton made of cartilage, like sharks.
  • Liver oil of the spotted ratfish was once used for machine oil.
  • Often caught accidentally in trawl fisheries.
  • One of almost 40 species in Chimaeridae family.


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