Common name: Coffinfishes, Seatoads, Gapers



Family of bottom-dwelling deep-sea anglerfishes, usually with flabby pink to deep reddish-orange bodies and a short mop-like lure on the head that retracts into a depression between the eyes. Coffinfishes have a network of large open sensory canals on the body, including a single open lateral-line canal running along the body to the tail.

Like their distant relatives, the shallow-water anglerfishes (famliy Antennariidae), coffinfishes wave their lure to attract prey, and usually 'walk' over the bottom on their pectoral and pelvic fins.

Click here to see some images and fantastic video footage of a species not found in Australia, Chaunacops coloratus, filmed for the first time on a seamount off the Central California Coast.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Coffinfishes, CHAUNACIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 17 Jun 2024,

More Info

Family Taxonomy

The family Chaunacidae, also commonly known as sea toads or coffinfishes, is a group of small bottom-dwelling fishes that can be found from 200 m to more than 2000 m deep along the continental slopes of major oceans. The family comprises two genera, and is characterised by having a large head, globose body, body entirely covered by small and spiny scales, and lateral-line neuromasts on head and body forming canal networks.                               

Family Distribution

Worldwide tropical and temperate seas of all oceans; demersal and bathydemersal in shelf and slope waters from 90 to more than 2500 m, most below 200 m.

Family Description

Deepwater anglerfishes with large, flabby, slightly compressed balloon-shaped body tapering to small tail, head large, eye large; mouth large, nearly vertical, teeth fine, in narrow bands in both jaws; gill opening a large pore above and behind pectoral-fin base. 

Two dorsal fins, first with 3 spines, second and third spines embedded in skin between illicium and soft dorsal fin; anal fin short-based, below rear of dorsal fin. Illicium short with fleshy mop-like bait (esca) at tip of snout, retractable into shallow depression between eyes. 

Skin loose, rough, densely covered with minute, spine-like scales; lateral line system comprising prominent open sensory canals bridged at regular intervals by overlapping spiny scales, present as a sinlge line on body and a conspicuous network of open sensory canals on head.

Family Size

Coffinfishes grow to a maximum total length of about 40 cm.

Family Colour

Most species with pinkish to deep reddish-orange bodies; some species with spots and other patterns.

Family Feeding

Carnivores, feeding on fishes and crustaceans.

Family Reproduction

Little in known of the biology of coffinfishes.

Chaunacid larvae distinguished by having 8 caudal rays, & only I, 4 pelvic rays and generally fewer anal-fin rays (6-7); larvae and juvenile specimens often caught at bathypelagic depths.

Family Commercial

Occasionally caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries, and marketed in some eastern Asian regions.

Family Remarks

The following key to chaunacid genera is by John Caruso and is taken from ; licenced as CC by Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0

1A. Anal-fin rays 5 or 6 (usually 6); greatest distance between anterolateral angles of sphenotic bones (prominent bumps beneath skin behind eyes) 22 to 27% of standard length; 9 neuromasts in supraorbital row (A-B), 1 neuromast in upper preopercular row (B-C), 2 in lower preopercular row (C-D), 3 in pectoral row (D-E), 17 to 21 in lateral line (B-F) (Chaunacops Caruso, 1989b)

1B. Anal-fin rays 6 or 7 (usually 7); greatest distance between anterolateral angles of sphenotic bones (prominent bumps beneath skin behind eyes) 15 to 23% of standard length; 10 to 13 neuromasts (usually 11) in supraorbital row (A-B), 2 to 4 neuromast in upper preopercular row (B-C), 3 to 5 in lower preopercular row (C-D), 10 to 13 in pectoral row (D-E), 29 to 42 in lateral line(E-F) (Chaunax Lowe, 1849)


Bray, D.J. 2022


Caruso, J.H. 1989a. Systematics and distribution of the Atlantic chaunacid anglerfishes (Pisces: Lophiiformes). Copeia 1989(1): 153-165.

Caruso, J.H. 1989b. A review of the Indo-Pacific members of the deep-water chaunacid anglerfish genus Bathychaunax, with the description of a new species from the eastern Indian Ocean (Pisces: Lophiiformes). Bull. Mar. Sci. 45(3): 574-579.

Caruso, J.H. 1999. Chaunacidae, pp 2020-2022, In Carpenter, K.E. & V.H. Niem. Species identification guide for fisheries purposes. The living marine resources of the western central Pacific. Batoid fishes, chimeras and bony fishes. Part 1 (Elopidae to Linophrynidae). FAO, Rome.

Caruso, John H. and Theodore W. Pietsch. 2007. Chaunacidae. Coffinfishes, seatoads, gapers. Version 02 October 2007 (under construction).

Long, N.P. & Farina, S.C. 2019. Enormous gillchambers of deep-sea coffinfishes (Lophiiformes: Chaunacidae) support unique ventilatory specialisations suchas breath holding and extreme inflation. Journal of Fish Biology: 1–8.