Spotted Handfish, <i>Brachionichthys hirsutus</i> Click to enlarge image
A Spotted Handfish, Brachionichthys hirsutus, at a depth of 5m, eastern bank of the Derwent River, greater Hobart area, Tasmania, July 2007. Image: Phil Malin
© Phil Malin

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    The species grows to about 12 cm in standard length.


The Spotted Handfish is a critically endangered species that lives in Tasmania. It has an extremely restricted distribution due partially to its unusual life cycle.


The Spotted Handfish is pinkish above and white below, with darker orange, brown or blackish spots. It has a high first dorsal fin originating on the snout and a long based soft rayed dorsal fin. There is a long illicium on the snout.


It is a benthic species, usually found on sandy bottoms in depths from 5 m to 40 m, although more commonly at 5 m to 10 m.


The Spotted Handfish is endemic to south-eastern Australia, occurring in the lower Derwent River estuary, Frederick Henry Bay, D'Entrecasteaux Channel and the northern regions of Storm Bay.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Source: Atlas of Living Australia.

Feeding and diet

The Spotted Handfish eats crustaceans, polychaete worms and small shells.

Life history cycle

Spawning occurs in September and October . Females lay egg masses on vertical objects such as stalked ascidians, sponges and seagrasses. The female guards the egg masses. After 7 to 8 weeks, fully formed juveniles (6 mm to 7 mm long) hatch from the eggs and drop to the substrate below.

Conservation status

The species is listed as critically endangered on both the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the ASFB Threatened Fishes Committee listings. Its decline has been attributed to a number of factors including predation by the Northern Pacific Seastar (Asterias amurensis), habitat modification and heavy metal contamination.


  1. Bruce, B.D., Green, M.A. & P.R. Last. 1999. Aspects of the biology of the endangered spotted handfish, Brachionichthys hirsutus (Lophiiformes: Brachionichthyidae) off southern Australia. pp. 369-380 in Séret B. & J.-Y. Sire, (eds) Proceedings of the 5th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference,Noumea, New Caledonia, 3-8 November 1997. Paris :Societe Française d'Ichtyologie. Pp. 888.
  2. Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. In Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia. parts 1-3, pages 1-2178.
  3. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  4. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.
  5. Pogonoski, J.J., Pollard, D.A. & J.R. Paxton. 2002. Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Canberra: Environment Australia. Pp. 375.