Like the better-known anglerfishes, coffinfishes (Family Chaunacidae) have a fishing lure over the mouth. They also have a 'fuzzy' texture’ that results from the covering of tiny, spiny scales. Recently, my colleague Hans Ho and I described a new species of coffinfish, known as an Eastern Tadpole Coffinfish, Chaunacops spinosus. This poorly-known deep-water species demonstrates just how much remains to be discovered in Australia's oceans.

Worldwide, there are about a dozen species of coffinfishes in two genera, Chaunax and Chaunacops. Both genera (five species) occur in Australian waters.The new species was described based on three specimens from eastern Australia and New Caledonia. What makes it different from other species of coffinfish is the dense covering of fine, simple and forked spines on the body.

Chaunacops spinosus
Chaunacops spinosus Image: Carl Bento
© Australian Museum

The type specimens (those used in the description of the species) are held at the fish collections of the Australian Museum and the National Museum in Paris. They range in size from 53 to 109 mm in length. Little is known of their biology or ecology.

Only one other species of Chaunacops, the Tadpole Coffinfish, Chaunacops melanostomus also lives in deep waters of Australia. This species however occurs on the opposite side of the country, off Western Australia.

The Australian Museum specimens were collected in the 1980s. So why did it take decades to describe the new species? The answer is that there are not enough ichthyologists to study all fish groups and specialists are often unable to examine all the specimens available. The Australian Museum’s specimens were examined by Hans Ho during a visit to the Australian Museum.

The new species, which features on the Nature website, is one of nearly 5,000 species of fishes that live in Australian waters. On average, every week, at least one new fish is discovered from Australian waters. There is still a huge amount of work to be done on our ichthyofauna; the description of this new species is a small step in the right direction.

Mark McGrouther
Ichthyology Collection Manager

More information:
Ho, H. & McGrouther, M. (2015) A new anglerfish from eastern Australia and New Caledonia (Lophiiformes: Chaunacidae: Chaunacops), with new data and submersible observation of Chaunacops melanostomus.Journal of Fish Biology (12607): 1-12.