Facts about the animal kingdom

What Are Abyssal Fish?

Anaëlle Laurent
By Anaëlle Laurent. June 22, 2020
What Are Abyssal Fish?

Fish are the most diverse vertebrates when it comes to aquatic environments. In fact, there are about 28,000 species of fish around the world. They have a large number of anatomical and physiological adaptations that have allowed them to evolve successfully over the years.

In this AnimalWised article we're going to discover what abyssal fish are and their characteristics. We'll also provide examples with photos. Discover more about these deep sea fish and their interesting anatomy in this article!

You may also be interested in: Top 10 Weirdest Deep Sea Fish
  1. What are abyssal fish?
  2. Abyssal fish characteristics
  3. What fish live in the abyssal zone?
  4. Other deep sea fish that live in the abyssal zone

What are abyssal fish?

Abyssal fish are a group of species that have the ability to live in the abyssal zone. That is, a portion of the ocean deeper than 2,000m (6,600 feet). This zone is characterised for its extreme environmental conditions. This includes deep seas, extreme water temperatures between 0º-4ºC (32º-39ºF), high concentration of nutritional salts, as well as a major pressure increase and lack of oxygen.

The abyssal zone, or abyssopelagic zone, also makes up for more than 83% of the ocean and covers around 60% of the earth. And yet, it is the zone we know least about. At its depths, this zone remains in perpetual darkness.

The fish that have the correct characteristics to live in these extreme conditions are called abyssal fish. They have a series of characteristics that allow them to survive in such deep oceans. In the following section we will go through their characteristics.

Abyssal fish characteristics

As previously mentioned, these fish share certain characteristics that allow them to survive in the extreme conditions of the abyssal zone. They are the following:

  • Skeleton: abyssal fish have weak bones as they have no need for stronger bones. This is because there are only weak currents in the abyss zone. Another reason for their weak bones is the fact that they cannot receive the nutrients and minerals, such as vitamin D or calcium, due to the lack of sun and the specific water components.
  • Body: these fish don't have bright or flashy colors, many lack any color and seem to be transparent. This helps them blend into their environmental that is in perpetual darkness. Many abyssal fish have bioluminescence which allows them to produce light from their organism. These fish also have a very soft and flexible body that allows them to float around the deep sea.
  • Mouth: Many abyssal fish species have extremely large mouths in comparison to their bodies. In fact, many have larger mouths than their bodies. This is an adaption to the lack of food sources. The devlopment of their mouths and stomachs allow them to feed on larger prey. In fact, sometimes their prey are larger than them. Some species seem to be made up of merely a head and a large jaw. Others, have huge sharp teeth that don't fit in their mouth when closed.
  • Eyes: some abyssal species have enormous eyes, while others don't have eyes at all. Abyssal fish with no eyes will need to rely on other senses in order to locate prey, mate and avoid predators. When it comes to fish that do have eyes, their eyesight is extremely sensitive. In fact, they are 100 times more sensitive to light than the human eye.

If you're enjoying this article, we encourage you to also read our article on animals without a brain.

What Are Abyssal Fish? - Abyssal fish characteristics

What fish live in the abyssal zone?

Among the types of abyssal fish, some of the most notable are:

Angler fish (Ceratias holboelli)

This fish (order Lophiiformes) inhabits the depths of all the oceans in our planet. It is a species of great size, being able to reach more than a meter in length. It has a certain strategy to prey on other fish that consists of using a filament that comes out of the upper part of its body.

The filament is made up of the first three vertebrae of its skeleton. The first of the filaments is the longest and is the one used to“fish”, since it is mobile and illuminates thanks to bioluminescent bacteria with which it performs a symbiosis. This way, the light emitted by the filament is used as a decoy to attract its prey.

What Are Abyssal Fish? - What fish live in the abyssal zone?
Image: 10tons

Nether Anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsonii)

Another example of abyssal fish of the order Lophiiformes that is lives in the abyssal zone is the Nether Anglerfish. This species has a very unique reproduction process and has an extreme case of sexual dimorphism.

While the female is large, measuring up to a meter in length, the male is a parasite ten times smaller. The male, who doesn't even have a digestive system, attaches itself to the female's body. That's where he feeds off her nutrients and produces sperm. Males are able to find a female thanks to their highly developed sense of smell that can locate a female's pheromones.

What Are Abyssal Fish? -
Image: YouTube

Viper fish (Chauliodus sloani)

This abyssal fish belongs to the order Stomiiformes and is distributed in warm and temperate deep waters. They are found in depths of about 5,000 meters.

It has an elongated body similar to a snake (hence its name) with about 35 cm in length. In this species, the male is larger than the female. Its jaw is so large that in order to swallow its prey it must dislocate them. In addition, it also has enormous and sharp teeth.

What Are Abyssal Fish? -

Whipfish (Saccopharynx ampullaceus)

This species is of the order Saccopharyngiformes and lives in 3,000 meters deep waters, distributed throughout the Atlantic Ocean. It reaches more than 1.5 meters in length and its body is dark brown, being almost black near the head.

It has an extremely long and thin tail that can reach four times the length of the body. In addition, adults suffer from reduced jaw. Nevertheless, they can capture larger prey than them thanks to their expanded stomach and great sense of smell.

What Are Abyssal Fish? -

Pelican fish (Eurypharynx pelecanoides)

This species is of the order Saccopharyngiformes. It is distributed in temperate areas of all oceans. It measures about 60 cm and its shape is reminiscent to an eel. That's why they are also called “voracious eel”.

What stands out in a very striking way is the size of their mouth, which becomes larger than their body. Its name is due to the fact that its lower jaw opens reminiscent of a pelican's gular pouch, allowing them to swallow huge prey. Its body ends in a long, thin tail that ends in a bioluminescent organ that it uses to attract prey.

What Are Abyssal Fish? -

Other deep sea fish that live in the abyssal zone

Other deep sea fish that live in the abyssal zone are:

  • Spiny fish (Himantolophus appelii).
  • Dragon fish (Stomias boa).
  • Leptostomy fish (Leptostomias gladiator .
  • Toothed firefly (Gonostoma elongatum).
  • Ax fish (Argyropelecus aculeatus).
  • Spiny frogfish (Caulophryne jordani).
  • Square-nosed helm (Scopelogadus beanii).
  • White Nether Cerato (Haplophryne mollis).
  • Red velvet whale fish (Barbourisia rufa).
  • Crop fish (S.accopharynx lavenbergi).

Want to learn more? Watch this Youtube video by the Scientific Magazine about the abyssal Anglerfish.

If you want to read similar articles to What Are Abyssal Fish?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Hernández-Urcera, J. & Guerra, Á. (2014). Life in great depths . Medical dendra. Humanities magazine, 13 (1), 34-48.
  • Nielsen, JG, Bertelsen, E. & Jespersen, Å. (1989). The biology of Eurypharynx pelecanoides (Pisces, Eurypharyngidae) . Acta Zoologica, 70 (3), 187-197.
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What Are Abyssal Fish?