What is a Ribbonfish?

A ribbonfish is a fascinating marine creature, known for its elongated, ribbon-like body and shimmering silver scales. These deep-sea dwellers can reach impressive lengths, often surprising fishermen with their serpentine appearance. Their unique anatomy allows them to navigate the ocean's depths with ease. Want to uncover the mysteries that lie within their aquatic realm? Join us as we explore further.
Heather Phillips
Heather Phillips

Ribbonfish are fish with elongated, narrow bodies that live in the pelagic zone of marine waters. This means that they generally live in the open sea, not in the shallower coastal waters. Their typical habitat is at depths between approximately 330 ft (100 m) and 1,640 ft (500 m).

For biological classification, ribbonfish belong to the order lampriformes, under the suborder taeniosomi and in the family trachipteridae. Within the family, there are three genera and ten species. The ribbonfish genera are zu, desmodema, and trachipterus.

Ribbonfish feed on squid.
Ribbonfish feed on squid.

Ribbonfish are seldom seen because of the depths they inhabit. When they are observed, however, they are easily recognizable. Their slender, stretched-out bodies have a long dorsal fin, which typically runs down the whole length of the back, from just behind the head. They can have between 62 and 111 vertebrae. Anal fins are not present, and their pectoral fins are small. They also do not have scales.

Ribbonfish tend to prefer open waters.
Ribbonfish tend to prefer open waters.

Since they live in deeper waters, the fins and membranes of these fish are delicate and brittle. They move in a serpentine way, relying on their bodies’ undulations and their dorsal fins to propel them through the water. They are not bottom-feeders, and their diet consists mainly of fish, squid, and small invertebrates. An interesting characteristic they possess is that their jaws can significantly protrude when they are eating. They also grow in an allometric fashion, with different body parts growing at greatly varying rates.

Their habitat includes all the world’s oceans except the Antarctic. They also can be found in the Mediterranean Sea. Some places where ribbonfish have been caught include the Atlantic Ocean — near Iceland, Scotland, the Orkney Islands, and Scandinavia — as well as the Bay of Bengal, Puget Sound, and off of the coast of Mauritius. They can vary in length from 12 in (30.48 cm) to 56 ft (17.07 m).

One species of ribbonfish, trachipterus ishikawae, is also known as the earthquake fish by the Taiwanese people. This is because it tends to appear along the coast of Taiwan after a sizeable earthquake occurs. This has been documented in the years 2006, 2007, and 2010. Sightings of the fish have also occurred in the same area, however, when no seismic activity was recorded.

Another species of this pelagic fish is the trachipterus altivelis. Its common name is king-of-the-salmon, and it can be found in the waters of the Puget Sound. A Native American legend states that this ribbonfish leads the salmon when they migrate.

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Discussion Comments


Although I am thirty something lady with two young children and a life full of plenty to do, I still harbor a secret dream that even my husband is unaware of.

I have the most heartfelt wish to learn how to dive in open waters out at sea. I suppose this stems from an early love of reading, and about a million books all about marine life.

I was enthralled with creatures of the open sea, like ribbonfish. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see one up close and personal? Maybe to have it swim around you or by you so you could see it in detail.

Honestly, I’m not even sure if ribbonfish are close enough to the surface for a diver to see, but I would really love to have the chance someday!

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    • Ribbonfish feed on squid.
      Ribbonfish feed on squid.
    • Ribbonfish tend to prefer open waters.
      By: shime
      Ribbonfish tend to prefer open waters.