Cusk-eel Family Photos and Information – Ophidiidae

The Cusk-eel Family – Ophidiidae

Pacific Bearded Brotula, Brotula clarkae, a representative member of the Cusk-eel or Ophidiidae Family. Catch and photo courtesy of David Aller, Phoenix, AR.

The fish of the Cusk-eel or Ophidiidae Family are known in Mexico’s fishing areas as brótulas and congriperlas. They are a very diverse group of bottom dwellers and include the deepest known living fish species, the Abyssobrotula galatheae, captured at a depth of 8,370 meters (5 miles) in the Puerto Rico Trench. They are rarely seen by humans as they hide in caves during the daytime and only emerge at night to feed on crustaceans and small fish. They are small to mid-sized fish ranging from a few cm (one inch) to over a meter (3 feet 3 inches) in length. There are two hundred thirty-seven global species of Cusk-eels distributed among 49 genera; they are found in both shallow and very deep seas.

Cusk-eels have elongated bodies which are much wider than those of traditional eels and which taper towards the rear. Their anal and dorsal fin bases are long and continuous with their caudal fin; the dorsal fin is longer and originates before the anal fin. Their pelvic fins have one or two soft rays that are placed close together below the gill cover or further forward on the body. All of their fins lack spines. In most species, the anterior nostril is found well above the upper lip. They have wide gill openings with one spine on the gill cover. Some species have barbels around the mouth (specifically the Brotulidae or Bearded Cusk-eels, a subfamily of Cusk-eels which have six barbels). They also have a supramaxillary, as is found in all primitive fish. Their bodies are covered with small smooth scales.

Cusk-eels are oviparous as the males lack specialized copulatory organs. Juveniles are pelagic and become demersal as adults.

Cusk-eels are generally brown or gray. Some are uniform in color and others have dark spots on the anal and dorsal fins and on the body.

Cusk-eels are of no commercial significance. They are obtained as a by-catch of deep water trawlers and by hook and line by commercial fishermen.

Thirty-nine Cusk-eels currently reside in North American waters, twenty-four in the Atlantic and fifteen in the Pacific. Eight are currently included in this website, all from the Pacific.

Basketweave Cusk-eel, Ophidion scrippsae
Brighteye Cusk-eel, Ophidion iris
Fore-Spotted Brotula, Brotula ordwayi
Leopard Cusk-eel, Lepophidium pardale
Pacific Bearded Brotula, Brotula clarkae
Prowspine Cusk-eel, Lepophidium prorates
Specklefin Cusk-eel, Lepophiudium negropinna
Spotfin Cusk-eel, Ophidion galeoides

Spotted Cusk-eel, Chilara taylori

A Special Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Robert N. Lea, Monterey, California for his contributions to this section of the website. Dr. Lea identified or reconfirmed the identity of the seven Cusk-eels described herein. From a scientific perspective, the introduction to science of three of the thirty-nine known Cusk-eels found in North American waters has been attributed to Dr. Lea, which is impressive!