Dragonfish

(family Stomiidae)

Dragons lurk in dark depths.

Dragonfishes (family Stomiidae) are cunning predators. Although they are strong swimmers, they prefer to lie in wait and ambush unsuspecting fishes and crustaceans. Most have dark skin—pigmented with some of the blackest blacks known in nature—to stay camouflaged from their prey. Some dragonfishes dangle a luminescent lure from their chins to entice prey. When a tasty morsel comes close, their big jaws open wide, and sharp teeth snap shut.

MBARI researchers have observed several different dragonfishes in the depths of Monterey Bay. The Pacific blackdragon (Idiacanthus antrostomus) and the longfin dragonfish (Tactostoma macropus) are the most commonly sighted species. Encounters with others are rare treats.

A shiny loosejaw (Aristostomias scintillans) one of the deep-sea dragonfishes observed by MBARI.

Fast Facts

Maximum Size: 50 centimeters (20 inches)

Depth: surface to 4,500 meters (14,800 feet); some species many migrate closer to the surface at night

Habitat: midwater, in the twilight (mesopelagic) and midnight (bathypelagic) zones

Range: worldwide

Diet: fishes and crustaceans

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Research publications

Choy, C.A., S.H.D. Haddock, and B.H. Robison. (2017). Deep pelagic food web structure as revealed by in situ feeding observations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284: 20172116. doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.2116

Davis, A.L., K.N. Thomas, F.E. Goetz, B.H. Robison, S. Johnsen, and K.J. Osborn (2020). Ultra-black camouflage in deep-sea fishes. Current Biology, 30(17): 3470-3476.e3. doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.044

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