Escolar, Lepidocybium flavobrunneum (Smith 1849)

Other Names: Black Oilfish, Black Oil-fish

An Escolar, Lepidocybium flavobrunneum. Source: Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO. License: CC by Attribution-Noncommercial


A large dark brown to blackish oceanic predator with a wavy lateral line, 4-6 finlets behind the second dorsal and anal fins, a strong keel flanked by a smaller keel above and below on each side of the caudal peduncle, and two pairs of fangs anteriorly in the upper jaw.

Escolar flesh is very oily and has a high wax ester content that is both indigestible and a natural laxative  - and may cause severe diarrhoea-like symptoms. The flesh of the Oilfish (Ruvettus pretiosus) also contains indigestible wax esters.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray & S. Schultz, Lepidocybium flavobrunneum in Fishes of Australia, accessed 20 Jun 2024,

Escolar, Lepidocybium flavobrunneum (Smith 1849)

More Info


Off southern Queensland, around southern Australia including Tasmania, to the Northwest Shelf, Western Australia; also Lord Howe Island. Elsewhere the species is circumglobal in tropical and temperate seas (absent from north Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea).

The Escolar is oceanic and benthopelagic on the continental slope at depths of 200-1100 m.


Dorsal fin VIII, 16-18; Anal fin I-II, 10-12; Pectoral fin 12-15; Pelvic fin I, 5.

Body semifusiform, slightly compressed; depth 4.1-4.3 in SL; head length 3.6-3.7 in SL; eye large; lower jaw protruding, both jaws without dermal processes; upper jaw with 2 pairs of fang-like teeth; vomer and palatine each with small uniserial teeth. 

First dorsal fin very low, second dorsal fin followed by 4-6 finlets; caudal fin small, wide, caudal peduncle with a prominent central keel, flanked by two smaller keels. 

Lateral line single, sinuous. Scales small, each surrounded by tubules bearing pores.


To 200 cm SL. At 105 cm this species weighs around 13 kg. Maximum recorded weight: 45 kg.


Body dark brown, becoming black at large sizes.


Carnivore - feeds on squids, fishes (scombrids, bramids, coryphaenids and trachipterids) and crustaceans.



Commonly taken as bycatch in pelagic longline tuna and swordfish fisheries. 


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Least Concern


Like the Oilfish (Ruvettus pretiosus), the Escolar cannot metabolize the wax esters (gempylotoxin) naturally found in its diet. This results in the flesh having a high oil content of 14–25% and a naturally occurring wax ester known as gempylotoxin. 
Humans cannot digest this compound which has a laxative effect and may cause severe diarrhoea. As a result, the sale of Escolar is banned in some countries. Consumers can be easily confused as Escolar has tasty white flesh and is not only sold under other names (including white tuna, super white tuna, king tuna, butterfish, oilfish, rudderfish, but other species are sometimes mislabelled as Escolar.

Similar Species

The Escolar differs from the Oilfish, Ruvettus pretiosus, in having lateral keels on the side of the caudal peduncle (keels absent in Oilfish), more finlets behind the second dorsal and anal fins (4-6 vs. 2 in Oilfish), a smaller mouth (extending to below the front of the eye vs. extending to below or just beyond the rear of the eye in Oilfish), and much smaller scales than those of the Oilfish.


The specific name flavobrunneum is from the Latin, flavo, meaning 'yellow', and brunneum meaning 'brown'.

Species Citation

Cybium flavobrunneum Smith 1849, Illustr. zool. S. Africa 4: Pl. 20. Type locality: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.


Dianne J. Bray & S. Schultz


Australian Faunal Directory

Escolar, Lepidocybium flavobrunneum (Smith 1849)


Brendtro, K.S., McDowell, J.R. & Graves, J.E. 2008. Population genetic structure of escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum). Marine Biology 155: 11–22.

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Hureau, J.-C. & Monod, T. (eds) 1973. Checklist of the Fishes of the North-Eastern Atlantic and of the Mediterranean (CLOFNAM). Paris : UNESCO Vol. 1 683 pp.

Landgren E., Fritsches K., Brill R., Warrant E. 2014. The visual ecology of a deep-sea fish, the escolar Lepidocybium flavobrunneum (Smith, 1843). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 369: 1471-2970.

Levesque, J.C. 2010. Evolving Fisheries: Today’s Bycatch is Tomorrow’s Target Catch - Escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) Catch in the U.S. Pelagic Longline Fishery. The Open Fish Science Journal 3: 30-41.

Lowenstein JH, Amato G, Kolokotronis S-O (2009) The Real maccoyii: Identifying Tuna Sushi with DNA Barcodes – Contrasting Characteristic Attributes and Genetic Distances. PLoS ONE 4(11): e7866. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007866

Nakamura, I. & Parin, N.V. 1993. FAO Species Catalogue. Snake mackerels and cutlassfishes of the world (families Gempylidae and Trichiuridae). An annotated and illustrated catalogue of the Snake Mackerels, Snoeks, Escolars, Gemfishes, Sackfishes, Domine, Oilfish, Cutlassfishes, Scabbardfishes, Hairtails, and Frostfishes known to date. Fisheries Synopsis No. 125, Vol. 15. Rome : FAO 136 pp. 200 figs. 

Nakamura, I. & Parin, N.V. 2001. Gempylidae, Trichiuridae. pp. 3698-3720 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 6 pp. 3381-4218. 

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Richardson, D.E., Llopiz, J.K., Guigand, C.M. &d Cowen, R.K. 2010. Larval assemblages of large and medium-sized pelagic species in the Straits of Florida. Progress in Oceanography 86(1-2): 8-20.

Smith, A. 1843. Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa; consisting chiefly of figures and descriptions of the objects of natural history collected during an expedition into the interior of South Africa, in the years 1834, 1835 and 1836. Pisces. London : Smith, Elder & Co. Vol. 4 83 unnumbered pages, 31 plates.

Smith-Vaniz, W.F., Williams, J., Pina Amargos, F., Curtis, M. & Grijalba Bendeck, L. 2015. Lepidocybium flavobrunneum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T190287A16510672. Downloaded on 22 September 2016.

Thomson, J.M. 1978. A Field Guide to the Common Sea & Estuary Fishes of Non-tropical Australia. Sydney : Collins 144 pp. 

Waite, E.R. 1904. Additions to the fish-fauna of Lord Howe Island. No. 4. Records of the Australian Museum 5(3): 135-186 fig. 32 pls 17-24 (described as Xenogramma carinatum)

Yearsley, G.K., Last, P.R. & Ward, R.D. (eds) 1999. Australian Seafood Handbook. Hobart : CSIRO Marine Research 460 pp.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37439008

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Danger:May cause diarrhoea

Depth:50-1100 m

Habitat:Benthopelagic, oceanodromous

Max Size:200 cm SL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map