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. 2018, Thymichthys politus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 14 Jul 2020,

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.


Females lay clusters of eggs at the base of green Caulerpa algae during spring. Like other handfish species, they guard the eggs until the larvae hatch.


Threatened by loss and degradation of habitat, pollution and introduced species.

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. 2018


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

Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) 2004. Issues Paper: Population status of an threats to four handfish species listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra.

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

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

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, Abstract

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

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37209004

Conservation:EPBC Critically Endangered: TAS Protected

Depth:1-20 m

Habitat:Reef associated, soft bottoms

Max Size:14 cm TL


Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map