Common name: Anglerfishes, Frogfishes



Mostly small, well camouflaged ambush predators with rounded, slightly compressed bodies, an enormous upturned mouth and the first dorsal-fin spine on top of the head and modified into a "fishing rod" (illicium) tipped with a lure or bait (esca); pectoral fins limb-like; gill opening small and pore-like, positioned below and behind the pectoral-fin base.

Anglerfishes rarely swim, prefering to clamber over the bottom on their arm-like pelvic and pectoral fins. These voracious ambush predators are masters of diguise, often resembling sponges, corals or clumps of algae. Although they lack scales, their skin is often covered in spinules, filaments and other appendages to aid their camouflage.

Underwater video footage from National Geographic of a number of anglerfish (frogfish) species.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2018, Frogfishes, ANTENNARIIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 23 Jul 2024,

More Info

Family Taxonomy

Family with 14 genera and more than 45 described species. All genera and 28 described species are known from Australian waters.

Most species are small, well camouflaged ambush predators with rounded, slightly compressed bodies, an enormous upturned mouth and the first dorsal-fin spine on top of the head and modified into a "fishing rod" (illicium) tipped with a lure or bait (esca); pectoral fins limb-like; gill opening small and pore-like, positioned below and behind the pectoral-fin base.

Antennariids usually resemble their surroundings, and often resemble sponges, or algae. They feed on other fishes and crustaceans and most wriggle their lure to attract their unsuspecting prey which is rapidly engulfed into the huge mouth and swallowed whole. They can even swallow prey larger than themselves.

Most are sedentary, lying in wait for passing prey, although some species lack a lure and slowly stalk their prey, "walking" over the bottom on their pelvic and pectoral fins.

The sexes are separate and fertilization is external. Females of most species lay hundreds of thousands of pelagic eggs in a buoyant raft-like structure. Species in southern Australia, however, lay a small number of large demersal eggs that are protected until the larvae hatch.

Family Distribution

Found in tropical seas worldwide (except the Mediterranean), with most species occurring in the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Anglerfishes also live in temperate waters in Australia.

These sedentary bottom-dwelling fishes usually live  in a variety of habitats on shallow reefs in depths of 0-300 metres. A single pelagic species spends its life clinging to floating sargassum seaweed.

Family Description

Mouth enormous, jaws up-turned, with irregular rows of small villiform teeth. The small gill opening is usually behind and below pectoral-fin base.

The spinous dorsal fin is highly modified, with three dorsal-fin spines, the first modified as a fishing lure on the tip of the snout.

The lure comprises a "fishing rod" (illicium) usually tipped with a fleshy bait (esca) that usually resembles a tiny invertebrate.

The pectoral fins are 'limb-like', and the elongate pectoral-fin lobe has an 'elbow-like' joint. Although anglerfishes lack scales, they often have spiny skin often covered with filaments or appendages.

Family Size

To more than 35 cm.

Family Colour

Anglerfishes are masters of camouflage with highly variable colour patterns, body textures, filaments and appendages that closely match their surroundings.

Family Feeding

Anglerfishes are superbly camouflaged ambush predators with highly variable colour patterns to match their surroundings.

These voracious carnivores wriggle their lure (esca) out in front to attract unsuspecting to come within striking distance. The esca may, among other objects, resemble a marine worm, a shrimp, a tiny squid or a tiny fish.

The huge upturned mouth is adapted to strike at lightening speeds and the prey is swallowed whole.

Family Reproduction

Sexes separate, and fertilisation is external. Most females have scroll-shaped ovaries and lay thousands of pelagic eggs (to 1 mm) in a large buoyant gelatinous mass or raft. The egg raft reamins intact and afloat until the eggs hatch.

The pelagic Sargassum Anglerfish, Histrio histrio, lays floating eggs rafts amongst Sargassum algae.

Some species, including those found in southern Australia, lay larger (to more than 4 mm) demersal eggs which are brooded in various ways. The egg mass may be attached to the substrate and guarded, held in the pectoral-fin axil or held in a pocket formed by the tail being curled around against the body.

In Lophiocharon trisignatus, the egg mass is attached to skin of male. The larvae that hatch from these demersal eggs are much larger and more advanced in development at hatching than those of pelagic eggs.

Anglerfish larvae have deep robust bodies, a low myomere count, an inflated dermal sac, pelvic fins and small gill openings below the pectoral-fin base. The larvae of several Australian species are treated in Leis and Carson-Ewart (2000).

Family Commercial

Although anglerfishes are collected for the sale in the aquarium industry, these voracious carnivores frequently devour other fishes in the tank.

Family Conservation

Not listed.


Bray, D.J. 2018


Arnold, R.J. & T.W. Pietsch. 2012. Evolutionary history of frogfishes (Teleostei: Lophiiformes: Antennariidae): A molecular approach. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 62: 117–129.

Leis, J.M. & B.M. Carson-Ewart. (eds). 2000. The larvae of Indo-Pacific coastal fishes. An identification guide to marine fish larvae. (Fauna Malesiana Handbooks 2). E.J. Brill, Leiden. 870 pp.

Moser, H.G. (ed.) 1996. The Early Stages of Fishes in the California Current Region. CalCOFI Atlas No.33 Ed. Allen Press Inc, Lawrence, Kansas. 1505 pp.

Pietsch, T.W. 1981. The osteology and relationships of the anglerfish genus Tetrabrachium, with comments on lophiiform classification. U. S. Fish. Bull. 79(3): 387-419.

Pietsch, T.W. 1984. The genera of frogfishes (family Antennariidae). Copeia 1984(1): 27-44.

Pietsch, T.W. 1999. Antennariidae: Frogfishes (also seamice, anglerfishes), p. 2013-2015, 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.

Pietsch, T.W. & D.B. Grobecker. 1987. Frogfishes of the World: Systematics, Zoogeography, and Behavioral Ecology. Stanford University Press, Stanford, xxii + 420 pp.

Pietsch, Theodore W. and Kenaley, Christopher P. 2005. Antennariidae. Frogfishes. Version 01 November 2005 (under construction). in The Tree of Life Web Project,