Common name: Family Hoplichthyidae - Deep Sea Flatheads, Ghost Flatheads, Spiny Flatheads, Spook Flatheads



Ghost flatheads inhabit continental shelf and slope waters in the western Pacific and Indian oceans in depths of 50 to 1500 m.

The family contains the single genus Hoplichthys which has  an elongated and mostly scaleless body, an extremely depressed head covered with many spines and serrated ridges, a row of large spiny scutes along each side, and the lowest three or four pectoral-fin rays free from the membrane.50–1500 m. Maximum length is 43 cm.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Ghost Flatheads, HOPLICHTHYIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Jun 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

A small family comprised of about 13 species within a single genus. Six described species have been recorded from Australia.  Species are generally poorly known, and the family is currently being revised by Yuki Nagano at Hokkaido University.

Family Distribution

Demersal in the Indo-Pacific, from a depth of about 50 m in coastal waters to ~1500 m on the continental slope.

Family Description

Body elongate, dorso-ventrally flattened; mostly scaleless, with a row of spiny scutes along the lateral line extending over much of the back and upper half of the sides. Head moderately large, very wide and flat, ridges and spines variously developed; eyes on dorsal surface of head. Pectoral fins with 11 to 14 upper rays and 3 or 4 detached lower rays.

Family Size

The largest species, Hoplichthys haswelli, reaches a maximum size of about 43 cm, species more commonly to a maximum of <30 cm SL.

Family Feeding

Commonly feed on fishes and crustaceans, but the diet is generally poorly known.

Family Commercial

Not commercially targeted, reported to have high quality flesh, but even large specimens yield relatively little meat.


Dianne J. Bray


Gomon, M.F. 2008. Family Hoplichthyidae (p. 522). In Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Paxton, J.R., Gates, J.E. McGrouther, M.A. & Hoese, D.F. (2006). Hoplichthyidae (pp. 949-950). In: Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. Fishes.

McGrouther, M.A. (1999). Family Hoplichthyidae. Pp. 2422-2424 In Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome. FAO Vol. 4 pp. 2069-2790.