Spotted Handfish, Brachionichthys hirsutus (Lacépède 1804)

Other Names: Prickly-skinned Handfish, Red Handfish, Tortoiseshell Fish

A Spotted Handfish, Brachionichthys hirsutus, in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. Source: Rick Stuart-Smith / Reef Life Survey. License: CC BY Attribution


A small anglerfish-relative found only in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania. Rather than swim, handfishes usually crawl along the bottom on their hand-like pectoral and pelvic fins.

Identifying features: Body white, or cream to brown, covered in small close-set brown, orange or blackish spots (or occasionally stripes) with dark saddle-like markings sometimes present along back and and below rear of second dorsal fin. The body is covered in small spinules, the longest dorsal-fin ray is slightly longer than the longest dorsal-fin spine, and the 'fishing rod' is more than 5 times longer than the fishing lure at its tip.

Video of a Spotted Handfish up close

The BBC Natural History Unit has amazing video footage of spotted handfishes feeding, handfish courtship displays, spawning behaviour and the tiny young hatching from eggs.

CSIRO video clip with underwater footage, and an explanation of the conservation status of the Spotted Handfish.

Spotted Handfish with her eggs in the Derwent Estuary, Tasmania.

ARKive images and video clips 

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2018, Brachionichthys hirsutus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 07 Apr 2020,

Spotted Handfish, Brachionichthys hirsutus (Lacépède 1804)

More Info


Endemic to temperate waters of the lower Derwent River Estuary (Tasmania), inhabiting sandy and silty bottoms in depths of 1-60 metres.

Prior to the mid 1980s, Spotted Handfish were common throughout the lower Derwent estuary and adjoining bays. After suffering a decline in number and distribution, only a few populations now occur around the mouth of the Derwent estuary.


Carnivore - feeds on small crustaceans and polychaete worms.


Spotted Handfish spawn from September to October, and females lay an interconnected egg mass of 80–250 eggs onto structures taht are attached to the sea floor - such as ascidian stalks. The female protects the eggs mass for 7-8 weeks until the young hatch.

Handfish lack a larval stage and the young hatch as fully formed juveniles (6–7mm in length). After hatching, they move to the sea floor and remain within a realtively small area throughout their lives.


  • IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered
  • EPBC Act: Critically Endangered
  • Protected in Tasmania and listed as Endangered
  • The decline of the Spotted Handfish may be due to a number of factors including:
    • Predation on handfish egg masses by the northern Pacific Seastar Asterias amurensis, an introduced pest species;
    • Habitat loss due to increased siltation of the Derwent Estuary;
    •Pollution from urban effluent, and the heavy metal contamination of bottom sediments.

    Commonwealth of Australia 2015 Recovery Plan for Three Handfish Species

    Similar Species

    The Australian Spotted Handfish, Brachionichthys australis, differs in having relatively longer dorsal-fin spines but shorter rays, and a different colour pattern.

    Species Citation

    Lophius hirsutus Lacépède, 1804, Ann. Mus. Natl. d'Hist. Nat. 4: 202, 210, pl. 55(3). Type locality: Tasmania (as 'Côtes sud de l'Australie').


    Bray, D.J. 2018


    Australian Faunal Directory

    Spotted Handfish, Brachionichthys hirsutus (Lacépède 1804)


    Barrett, N., B.D. Bruce, & P.R. Last (1996). Spotted handfish survey. Report to Endangered Species Unit, ANCA. CSIRO Div. Fisheries, Hobart.

    Bruce, B. (1998). 'Progress on Spotted Handfish Recovery', On the brink!. Threatened Species and Communities  11: 9.

    Bruce, B.D. & M.A. Green (1998). Spotted Handfish Recovery Plan 1999-2001. [Online]. Environment Australia

    Bruce, B.D., M.A. Green & P.R. Last (1998). Threatened Fishes of the World: Brachionichthys hirsutus (Lacepede, 1804) (Brachionichthyidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 52: 418.

    Bruce, B.D., M.A. Green & P.R. Last (1999). Aspects of the biology of the endangered Spotted Handfish Brachionichthys hirsutus (Lophiiformes: Brachionichthyidae) off southern Australia. In: Seret, B. & J.Y. Sire, eds. Proceedings of the 5th Indo Pacific Fish Conference, Noumea 1997. Pp 369-380. Societe Francaise d'Ichthyologie, Paris.

    Bruce, B.D., M.A. Green &. P.R. Last (1997). Developing captive husbandry techniques for spotted handfish Brachionichtys hirsutus, and monitoring the 1996 spawning season.  22 pp. Report to Endangered Species Unit, Environment Australia. CSIRO Division Marine Research, Hobart.

    Bruce, B.D., M.A.P. Green & P.R. Last (1997). Developing Husbandry Techniques for Spotted Handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) and Monitoring the 1996 Spawning Season. Environment Australia, Canberra.

    Commonwealth of Australia 2015 Recovery Plan for Three Handfish Species

    Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) (2005). Issues Paper: Population status of an threats to four handfish species listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Canberra.

    Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) (2005). Recovery Plan for four species of handfish.  

    Edgar GJ, Stuart-Smith RD, Cooper A, Jacques M, Valentine J. 2016. New opportunities for conservation of handfishes. Biological Conservation (Family Brachionichthyidae) and other inconspicuous and threatened marine species through citizen science. Biological Conservation

    Edgar, G.J., P.R. Last & M.W. Wells (1982). Coastal Fishes of Tasmania and Bass Strait.  176  pp. Tasmanian Underwater Photographic Society.

    Green, M. (2007). Implementing handfish Recovery Plan 2006/7. Report to Biodiversity Conservation branch DPIWE, Tasmania.

    Green, M. (2009). Handfish 08-09. NRM South Final Report. Report to Biodiversity Conservation branch DPIWE, Tasmania.

    Green, M.A.P. & B.D. Bruce (2002). Spotted Handfish Recovery Plan 1999-2001: Year 3. Environment Australia, Canberra.

    Green, M.A. & B.D. Bruce (2000). Spotted Handfish Recovery Plan: Final Report: Year 1 (1999). Environment Australia, Canberra.

    Green, M.A. & B.D. Bruce (2001). Spotted Handfish Recovery Plan 1999-2001: Progress Report, End of Year 2 (2000). Environment Australia, Canberra.

    Last, P. & B. Bruce (1996-97). 'Spotted Handfish'. Nature Australia  25:20-21.

    Last, P.R. & D.C. Gledhill (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., D.C. Gledhill & B.H. Holmes.  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.  

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

    Lynch, T.P., Wong, L. &  Green, M. 2016. Direct Conservation Actions for the Critical Endangered Spotted Handfish. Final report to the Threatened Species Commissioner, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, 23 pp.

    Pogonoski, J.J., D.A. Pollard & J.R. Paxton (2002). Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia. 

    Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) (2012bw). Commonwealth Listing Advice on Brachionichthys hirsutus (Spotted Handfish). Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Canberra, ACT. 

    Wong, L. 2015. Assessing local densities and habitat preference of spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) for deployment of new artificial spawning habitat. A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree Bachelor of Applied Science (Marine Environment) with Honours Institute of Marine and Antarctic Sciences (IMAS) University of Tasmania.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37209002

    Conservation:IUCN/EPBC Act Critically Endangered; TAS Endangered/Protected

    Depth:1-60 m

    Habitat:Sandy, silty bottoms

    Max Size:15 cm TL


    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map