Red Handfish, Thymichthys politus (Richardson 1844)

A Red Handfish, Thymichthys politus, in Frederick Henry Bay, Tasmania. Source: Rick Stuart-Smith / Reef Life Survey. License: CC by Attribution


This very rare handfish has two colour morphs - one a brilliant red with bluish and white fin margins, the other mottled yellowish to pink or reddish with darker spots, dashes and patches on the body and fins.

Stunning footage of Red Handfish courtship and spawning behaviour

Red Handfish feeding on mysids

Red Handfish walking on the seafloor

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2020, Thymichthys politus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 29 Jan 2023,

Red Handfish, Thymichthys politus (Richardson 1844)

More Info


Known only from Frederick Henry Bay, Tasmania. Historically the species was recorded from off Port Arthur and the Forestier Peninsula. Population declines saw Red Handfish numbers decline severely, and the species was thought to be restricted to a single small population - until the recent discovery of a second population.
Occurs in a variety of habitats including the top of rocks, amongst macro-algae, in sandy areas between rocks and the reef-sand interface, and on sediments with weed clumps near reefs, in depths to 20 metres. 


Dorsal fin 18-19; Anal fin 9-10; Pectoral fin 9-10.
Esca large, 45-65% (mean 52%) of illicium length (including esca); ilicium short, thick and fleshy, dermal spinules absent, length 14-17% SL, 3-3.4 times in head length, well separated from upper jaw (pre-illicial length 3.3-7.9% SL); eye of moderate size, 6.9-9.3 times in head; body variably covered in small, close-set flattened warts, without well-developed dermal flaps; posterior margins of warts usually with a small, sharp, prostrate spine (mostly embedded with its tip sometimes visible); scales deeply embedded, widely spaced; second dorsal-fin rays 16-17, fin base 63-71% SL; length of second dorsal-fin spine 0.7-1 times length of longest ray of second dorsal fin.


In Spring, females lay clusters of 30-60 large eggs at the base of the fronds of green alga Caulerpa, or ascidian stalks. Like other handfish species, they guard the eggs until the larvae hatch.
Females lay small clusters of 30-60 large eggs attached to vertical substrate such as ascidians and fronds of green alga (Caulerpa sp.) by filaments and some level of parental care is provided until they hatch 


Red Handfish are threatened by destruction and loss of habitat, pollution and urban development.

Commonwealth of Australia 2015 Recovery Plan for Three Handfish Species

Species Citation

Cheironectes politus Richardson 1844, Trans. Zool. Soc. Lond. 3(2):.133. Type locality: Neotype, Actaeon Islands, D'Entrecasteaux Channel, Tasmania, 43°34'S,147°00'E, depth 5 m.


Bray, D.J. 2020


Red Handfish, Thymichthys politus (Richardson 1844)


Bruce, B.D., Green, M.A. & Last, P.R. 1999. Aspects of the biology of the endangered spotted handfish, Brachionichthys hirsutus (Lophiiformes: Brachionichthyidae) off southern Australia. pp. 369-380 in Séret B. & Sire, J.-Y. (eds). Proceedings of the 5th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference, Nouméa, 3-8 November 1997. Paris : Société Française d'Ichtyologie 888 pp. (p. 370, as Sympterichthys politus

Commonwealth of Australia, 2015. Recovery plan for three handfish species. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Environment, Canberra, ACT.

Edgar, G.J., Last, P.R. & Wells, M.W. 1982. Coastal Fishes of Tasmania and Bass Strait. Hobart : Cat & Fiddle Press 175 pp.

Edgar G.J., Stuart-Smith R.D., Cooper A.T., Jacques, M. 2015. Systematic Surveying of Two Threatened Handfish Species. Report for the Department of the Environment. Hobart, Tasmania : The Reef Life Survey Foundation and Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, 23 pp.

Edgar, G.J., Stuart-Smith, R.D., Cooper, A., Jacques, M. & Valentine, J. 2017. New opportunities for conservation of handfishes (Family Brachionichthyidae) and other inconspicuous and threatened marine species through citizen science. Biological Conservation 208: 174-182.

Günther, A. 1861. Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum. Catalogue of the acanthopterygian fishes in the collection of the British Museum. London : British Museum Vol. 3 586 pp. (as Chironectes politus)

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp. (as Brachionichthys politus)

Last, P.R. & Gledhill, D.C. 2009. A revision of the Australian handfishes (Lophiiformes: Brachionichthyidae), with descriptions of three new genera and nine new species. Zootaxa 2252: 1-77.

Last, P.R., Gledhill, D.C. & Holmes, B.H. 2007. A new handfish, Brachionichthys australis sp. nov. (Lophiiformes: Brachionichthyidae), with a redescription of the critically endangered spotted handfish, B. hirsutus (Lacepède). Zootaxa 1666: 53-68. (as Sympterichthys politus

Last, P.R., Scott, E.O.G. & Talbot, F.H. 1983. Fishes of Tasmania. Hobart: Tasmania Fisheries Development Authority.

Lynch, T., Green, M. & Davies, C. 2015. Diver towed GPS to estimate densities of a critically endangered fish. Biological Conservation 191: 700-706,

Richardson, J. 1844. Description of Australian fish. Part 2. Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 3(2): 133-185 figs 7-11 See ref at BHL

Stuart-Smith, R., Edgar, G. & Last, P.R. 2020. Thymichthys politus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T123423510A123424379. Downloaded on 02 October 2020.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37209004

Conservation:EPBC Critically Endangered: TAS Protected

Conservation:IUCN Critically Endangered

Depth:1-20 m

Habitat:Reef associated, weedy areas

Max Size:14 cm TL


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CAAB distribution map