Quillfish Facts: These Fish Look and Move Like a Snake

Resembling an eel, but this species is actually a fish. It’s one of the weirdest fish in the ocean. Let’s have a look at some amazing facts about these creatures to see how strange they are!

Scientific Name: Ptilichthys goodei
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Ptilichthyidae
Genus: Ptilichthys

1. They look like an eel

The quillfish is one of the strangest fish in the ocean. It looks like an eel or a sea snake, but it’s a fish, a saltwater ray-finned fish. You may know this by the term “fish” in its name.

Unlike other fish, these species have an elongated body, with a relatively small head constituting only 4 to 7% of their body’s length. Quillfish can reach a maximum size of 14-16 inches (36-40 cm) in length.

A mature quillfish is distinguished by its lengthy and nearly thread-like tail

At the front of their lower jaw, you can see a large fleshy projection. The quillfish also sports a row of tiny hooked spines running down its back from behind its head.

They don’t have a pelvic girdle or pelvic fins. Their pectoral fins are round while their tail fin is as thin as thread. Their dorsal fins are comprised of approximately 90 separate and short spines, followed by roughly 190 flexible rays.

The fish are named after their appearance, resembling a quill since their dorsal fins are long and anal fins are tall, the fish. Their body is predominantly transparent with varying colors ranging from yellow or orange to dark greenish gray.

The fish’s scientific name, Ptilichthys, is derived from the Greek word “Ptilon,” meaning “quill,” paired with the word “ichthys,” meaning “fish.”

2. Habitat

Quillfish come from the Pacific Ocean, spanning from its eastern to northern to western regions. They are distributed from central Oregon to Alaska, encompassing the Aleutian Islands, the Kuril Islands, and the Sea of Okhotsk, and extending southwards to Japan. Some individuals can also be found in the Bering Sea.

An adult quillfish in the ocean
Cre: inaturalistNZ

The fish have a broad range of habitats, ranging from the coastline to depths of up to 1,200 feet. Nonetheless, they show a preference for deep waters where the temperature is below 86°F (30°C).

There’s a Pokémon cartoon character that shares the same name as this species. However, the appearance of the Pokémon Quillfish bears no resemblance to the real-life quillfish.



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3. They’re photosensitive

Quillfish are known to inhabit small groups. They are typically found in shallow waters, either lying on or submerged in soft substrates, such as sand or mud.

Cre: inaturalistNZ

These fish are nocturnal animals, only coming out to feed at night. They are known to be drawn to artificial lights, such as those on fishing boats. That’s why these species are frequently seen near the water’s surface at night. Their daytime behaviors are not well understood.

With a long and thin body, quillfish move like a snake, and they move pretty quickly. However, their speed is challenging to quantify due to their elusive nature during daylight hours.

4. Diet

The main diet of these species is tiny invertebrates, such as seaworms, tadpoles, crustaceans, mollusks, and echinoderms. Additionally, they might prey on fish eggs and small aquatic organisms.


5. Reproduction

We don’t know much about the mating habit of quillfish. However, they are believed to reproduce like other fish.

To begin, these species will engage in a courtship display that typically happens after sunset. Following mating, the female creates a small hole in the seabed to lay her eggs. Those eggs are then fertilized externally by the male.

Cre: inaturalistNZ

Unfortunately, there is not much information available about the care of larvae. It is speculated that the larvae are self-sufficient throughout their juvenile and adult stages.

There is no exact information about how long quillfish can live. It’s predicted that they have a lifespan of approximately one year or slightly longer.

6. Threats

The population of quillfish is not well researched, but reports suggest that they are plentiful. They are rarely caught for commercial purposes and may not have natural predators.

Cre: inaturalistNZ

While there have been reports of the fish being found in the stomachs of Pacific cod, chinook, and coho salmon, this is unusual behavior. Therefore, these are not quillfish’s direct predators.


  • https://oceaninfo.com/animals/quillfish/
  • https://kidadl.com/facts/animals/quillfish-facts

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