Common name: Footballfishes, Prickly Deepsea Anglerfishes


The large globular females of this deepwater anglerfish family (Suborder Ceratioidei) have conspicuous spiny plates embedded in their skin, a robust, protruding lower jaw and a large and elaborately-decorated bioluminescent lure. The much smaller males are free-living and are not parasitic on the females.

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Dianne J. Bray, Footballfishes, HIMANTOLOPHIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 26 Sep 2023,

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Family Taxonomy

Family with a single genus and 18 recognised species; a single species is known from Australian waters.

Family Distribution

Widely distributed in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, most commonly between 40°S and 40°N, but also recorded in polar regions of the North Atlantic; inhabit meso- and bathypelagic waters.

Family Description

Females - large , body globose, head large with a dorsal pair of horn-like spines, eye small to tiny; mouth large, oblique, reaching to below eye, lower jaw stout, projecting beyond upper jaw; jaw teeth moderately short, slender, curved and depressible, absent from vomer. Illicium stout, tipped with a prominent, ornate esca, often with many tentacles; soft dorsal and anal fins short-based, posteriorly placed on body near caudal fin;3 radial bones at base of pectoral fin, pelvic fins absent. Skin covered with prominent dermal spines or spinules; lateral line in form of small papillae, snout and anterior part of lower jaw with numerous wart-like dermal papillae. Males - free-living, very small, elongate to deep-bodied, eyes well-developed, olfactory organs large, nostrils directed laterally; jaw teeth absent, upper and lower denticular bones with many recurved denticles.

Family Size

Females to 470 mm SL, males to 39 mm SL.

Family Feeding

Voracious predators of the deep ocean midwaters known to feed on fishes, crustaceans and squid.

Family Reproduction

Reproduction is oviparous, with pelagic eggs and larvae. Larvae have short, almost spherical, strongly inflated bodies, pectoral fins not greatly prolonged, pelvic fins absent. Larvae exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females having a small, club-shaped illicium on the head. Larvae metamorphose at a relatively large size, between 20 and 33 mm SL.

Family Commercial

Of no commercial importance.

Family Conservation


Family Remarks

The lure of large females of Himantolophus appelii may resemble a small oceanic squid.


Dianne J. Bray


Bertelsen, E. 1951. The ceratioid fishes. Ontogeny, taxonomy, distribution and biology. Dana Rept. 39: 276 pp.

Bertelsen, E. 1984. Ceratioidei: Development and relationships. pp. 325-334, In Moser, H.G., W.J. Richards, D.M. Cohen, M.P. Fahay, A.W. Kendall, Jr. & S.L. Richardson (eds). Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes. Spec. Publ. No. 1, Amer. Soc. Ichthy. Herpet., ix + 760 pp.

Bertelsen, E. & G. Kreft. 1988. The ceratioid family Himantolophidae (Pisces, Lophiiformes). Steenstrupia. 14(2): 9-89.

Pietsch, T.W. 1999. Himantolophidae: Footballfishes (deepsea anglerfishes), p. 2029, 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. 2005. Dimorphism, parasitism, and sex revisited: modes of reproduction among deep-sea ceratioid anglerfishes (Teleostei: Lophiiformes). Ichthyol. Res. 52: 207-236.

Pietsch, T.W. 2009. Oceanic Anglerfishes: Extraordinary Diversity in the Deep Sea. University of California press, 576 pp.

Pietsch, T.W. & Kenaley, C.P. 2005. Himantolophidae. Himantolophus. Footballfishes. Version 05 November 2005 (under construction). in The Tree of Life Web Project,