Species: Spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The spotted handfish has hand-like ‘paired fins’ that enable it to ‘walk’ along the seafloor!
The unusual looking spotted handfish is one of the world’s most endangered marine fish. It has an extremely distinctive, almost pear-shaped body which is marked with a myriad of dusky brown to yellow-brown spots, the pattern of which is unique to each individual. During the spawning season, the male spotted handfish entices the female with a courtship display. The female then produces around 80 to 250 eggs, and these are often positioned around the base of a jelly-like invertebrate known as a sea squirt. The female guards the eggs for seven to eight weeks until the fully-formed juveniles hatch, and these tiny young then move straight to the bottom of the seabed. The spotted handfish is endemic to the lower Derwent River estuary in Tasmania.
The spotted handfish was common in the lower Derwent River estuary until the mid 1980s, when the species underwent a catastrophic decline. Although unproven, it is thought that the introduction of the northern Pacific seastar (Asterias amurensis) to Tasmania at this time may be the key to the decimation of the handfish population. These seastars are voracious predators of shellfish and it is thought that they may also eat the eggs of the handfish or the sea squirts upon which the eggs are attached. In 1996, the Spotted Handfish Recovery Team formed to conserve this species. Research into existing wild populations and the development of captive breeding techniques are some of the priorities in order to save this unique species.
Find out more about the Australian Government’s conservation plans for the spotted handfish.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author