Friday, 22 October 2010


Image of a viperfish
Species: Chauliodus sloani
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Stomiiformes
Family: Stomiidae
Genus: Chauliodus
Species: There are 9 known viperfish species (scroll down for full list)
Common Name(s): Viperfish

"Viperfish" is the common name used for all the species of the Chauliodus genus. These fish are best known for their ferocious appearance. Currently, there are 9 known species. The genus has a world wide distribution, occurring in oceans with tropical and temperate waters, at depths ranging from 76 to 1500 m (~ 250 to 5,000 ft).

Their length varies from 30 to 60 cm (~ 12-24 inches). Most of the viperfish species have a frightening appearance with long, needle and pointed teeth and a hinged lower jaw. They come in a variety of colors including:
  • Green
  • Silver
  • Black

During the day, they stay deeper in the ocean emerging during the night to forage. All Viperfish have an organ called "photophore". This photophore emits a natural light and is located near the dorsal spine. When hunting, this organ flashes every now and then, luring all kinds of prey.

When using the organ, they stay motionless (usually for hours), only moving their spine. Once prey is close enough, they will use their fanged teeth to immobilize and kill it. The photophore is also used as a means of communication with individuals of the same species (rivals or possible mates).

Viper fish swimming in the Golf of Mexico

Many species live in extremely deep waters and have adapted to survive for many days with little or no food.

It is believed that certain species can swim at a speed of twice their body length/per second, however this is not endorsed by the entire scientific community.

In the wild, viperfish can live to 30 to 40 years old. However, captive specimens die in a matter of a few days.

Sketch of a dana viperfish
Dana viperfish
Species: Chauliodus danae

What Do They Eat? 
Their diet primarily consists of small fish, shrimps and many other small crustaceans.

The viperfish's main predators are dolphins and sharks.

Image of a pacific viperfish
Pacific Viperfish
Species: Chauliodus macouni

How Do They Reproduce
Little is known about their reproductive patterns. The eggs  are probably spawned externally and then fertilized by males.

Viperfish Species
Today there 9 identified viperfish species:
  • Chauliodus danae (Common Name: Dana viperfish)
  • Chauliodus barbatus
  • Chauliodus dentatus
  • Chauliodus macouni (Common Name: Pacific viperfish)
  • Chauliodus pammelas
  • Chauliodus schmidti
  • Chauliodus minimus
  • Chauliodus sloani  (Common Name: Sloane's viperfish)
  • Chauliodus vasnetzovi 

Interesting Facts
- The Sloani's viperfish species (Chauliodus sloani) holds the Guinness world record (fish category) for largest teeth relative to head size. Sloani's teeth are so large that the fish has to open its mouth in a vertical position before swallowing prey.

References & Further Reading
- Rudolph E. Haffner (1952). Zoogeography of the Bathypelagic Fish, Chauliodus Systematic Zoology DOI: 10.2307/2411813
- B Christophea, F Bagueta, G Marechal (1979). Luminescence of Chauliodus photophores by electrical stimulation Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Physiology DOI: 10.1016/0300-9629(79)90456-0

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