Kingklip

Genypterus capensis

Last updated: February 27, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/collectie/RP-T-1914-17-117 – License / Original

A delicacy in South Africa


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Kingklip Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Ophidiiformes
Family
Ophidiidae
Genus
Genypterus
Scientific Name
Genypterus capensis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Kingklip Conservation Status

Kingklip Locations

Kingklip Locations

Kingklip Facts

Prey
Squid and small fish
Main Prey
Hake, squid
Name Of Young
Fry
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
A delicacy in South Africa
Biggest Threat
Overfishing
Most Distinctive Feature
Lack of scales
Distinctive Feature
Elongated body
Habitat
Rocky outcroppings
Predators
Flounder, conger eels, skate
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Number Of Species
1
Location
Off the coasts of southern Africa
Nesting Location
Pelagic waters

Kingklip Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Orange
  • Pink
Skin Type
Smooth
Lifespan
Over 20 years
Weight
Up to 50 pounds
Length
Up to 6 feet
Venomous
No
Aggression
Medium

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Summary

Genypterus capensis is more commonly known as the kingklip. A native to the coasts of southern Africa, the kingklip belongs to the cusk eel family Ophidiidae. It ranks as one of the most important species to South Africa’s commercial fishing industry. People often cook kingklip in stews and soups, because its dense meat holds together well. 

5 Kingklip Facts

  • While most weigh around 10 pounds they can grow up to 50 pounds. 
  • They are bottom-dwellers that hide in caves, coral reefs, and rocky outcroppings. 
  • You can typically find them between 820 and 1150 feet below the surface, but they live up to 1640 feet below sea level.  
  • They mature relatively slowly and can live up to 20 years or more in the wild. 
  • During the 1980s, their numbers declined dramatically due to overfishing, prompting authorities to put in place regulations to protect kingklip populations. 

Kingklip Classification and Scientific Name

The kingklip belongs to the ray-finned fish order Ophidiiformes, which includes cusk-eels, pearlfishes, and viviparous brotulas. It is a member of the cusk-eel family Ophidiidae. The family’s scientific name derives from the Greek word ophis, meaning “snake,” in reference to their snake-like appearance.” Despite their common name, cusk-eels are not closely related to true eels, although they share common ancestors. 

They rank as one of the five recognized species in the genus Genypterus. The genus name stems from the Greek words genyos, meaning “face” or “jaw,” and pteron, meaning “wing” or “fin.” Meanwhile, its specific name, capensis, refers to Cape Town, one of the three capitals of South Africa. Scottish explorer Andrew Smith first described the kinklip in 1847 from a specimen caught near Table Bay, a natural bay overlooked by the city of Cape Town. In true scientific fashion, Smith bestowed the city with the honor of serving as the kingklip’s specific name. That said, at the time, the genus Genypterus did not exist. Smith originally named the kingklip Xiphiurus capensis, from xiphos, meaning “sword,” and oura, meaning “tail.” Further study eventually led the kingklip to be classified with similar species in the genus Genypterus.

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 The kingklip’s common name stems from a shortened version of its name in Afrikaans. In Afrikaans, the fish goes by the name koningklipvis. Translated into English, its name is kingklipfish, or “king klipfish.” As a result, the name kingklip merely acts as a shortened version of this English translation.

Kingklip Appearance 

Kingklip

Although they possess scales they appear quite small and thin, which makes them difficult to spot.

©Annals of the South African Museum (= Annale van die Suid-Afrikaanse Museum), Vol. 21, 1927. Plate XXXV, fig. 5: “Genypterus capensis (Smth.) (after Smith)” via https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14580726258/ – License

Kingklip vary in size and appearance but share a number of similarities. On average, they measure around 3 feet long and weigh about 10 pounds, with females measuring larger than males. However, they can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh nearly 50 pounds. The body measures nearly 12 to 13 times as long as it does wide. Like other cusk eels, the kingklip’s dorsal and anal fins are connected together in a single ribbon along the back. The dorsal soft rays number around 150, while the anal soft rays number around 110. They feature large mouths and nostrils on either side of the head. Although they possess scales they appear quite small and thin, which makes them difficult to spot. Moreover, a thick membrane covers the entire fish from head to toe, lending it a slimy texture. In terms of color, most kingklip look pinkish brown or orange. 

Kingklip Distribution, Population, and Habitat

You can find them in the warm waters off the coasts of southern Africa. They range from Walvis Bay on the coast of central Namibia to Algoa Bay in southern South Africa. Juveniles prefer shallow water while adults live in deeper habitats. Mature kingklip frequently inhabit depths between 820 and 1,150 feet below the surface. However, you can find them anywhere from 160 to 1,640 feet below sea level. Kingklip are bottom-dwellers that thrive in rocky environments with plenty of cover. They often live in and around coral reefs and caves along the continental slope. 

Kingklip Predators and Prey

Almost larger fish prey upon them. Common kingklip predators include dogfish, skates, flounders, and conger eels. Since they live so far below the surface, they don’t have to worry about predation from birds or terrestrial mammals

They are carnivores that mostly prey on crustaceans and smaller fish. Their prey includes mantis shrimp, hake, squid, and dragonets. Larger specimens typically feed on larger prey. That said, prey selection and preference can vary considerably depending on the season and area. Kingklip mostly hunt using stalking and ambush tactics. They hunt at night and then retreat into rocky outcroppings to hide from predators during the day. 

Kingklip Reproduction and Lifespan 

Spawning season varies depending on the location. In some areas, the spawning season begins during the fall as sea surface temperatures drop. Meanwhile, in other locations spawning only begins once deeper, cooler water moves up toward the surface. Regardless, spawning typically takes place from June to December, with most populations spawning between August and October. During the spawning season, they will collect together in large aggregations to mate. Outside of the breeding season kingklip are mostly solitary. Females lay their eggs in pelagic waters and the males fertilize the eggs externally with their sperm. These eggs float freely in the water until the fry hatch. Kingklip enjoy relatively long lifespans and can live up to 20 years old. 

Kingklip in food and cooking

Kingklip

People in South Africa consider kingklip a delicacy.

©heikehu/Shutterstock.com

People in South Africa consider kingklip a delicacy. The flesh of kingklip is slightly sweet and quite meaty. Its firm texture means it lends itself well to various cooking methods. Popular cooking methods include baking, grilling, boiling, poaching, sautéing, frying, steaming, and stewing. If you grill kingklip you’ll want to use a fish basket or wrap the meat in tin-foil to make sure it doesn’t break apart while cooking. Thanks to its mild taste kingklip also pairs well with various sauces and spices. 

Kingklip Population

It has been a popular delicacy in South Africa for years. However, local stocks fell substantially along the coasts of southern Africa during the 20th century. By the 1980s, small harvests prompted local governments to take action. Even after decades of legal protection, populations have yet to fully recover. Today, regulations only permit the commercial harvesting via bycatch, while targeted fishing is prohibited. Still, the conservation status of the kingklip remains murky. Currently, the kingklip is Not Listed with the IUCN or any other major animal conservation index. 

Kingklip FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are kingklip carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

They are carnivores that prey on a wide variety of aquatic creatures, including mantis shrimp, squid, hake, dragonets, and other fish. 

Where can you find kingklip?

They are bottom-dwellers that typically live at depths between 820 and 1,150 feet below the surface. This fish tend to prefer rocky outcroppings covered in caves or coral reefs. 

How long can kingklip live?

They tend to mature and grow relatively slowly. Under the right circumstances, this fish can live over 20 years in the wild. 

How did the kingklip get its name?

The word kingklip is the shortened, English version of the Afrikaans word koningklipvis, meaning “king klipfish.”

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Kingklip FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are kingklip carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Kingklip are carnivores that prey on a wide variety of aquatic creatures, including mantis shrimp, squid, hake, dragonets, and other fish. 

Where can you find kingklip?

Kingklip are bottom-dwellers that typically live at depths between 820 and 1,150 feet below the surface. They tend to prefer rocky outcroppings covered in caves or coral reefs. 

How long can kingklip live?

Kingklip tend to mature and grow relatively slowly. Under the right circumstances, they can live over 20 years in the wild. 

How did the kingklip get its name?

The word kingklip is the shortened, English version of the Afrikaans word koningklipvis, meaning “king klipfish.”

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Sources
  1. , Available here: https://eol.org/pages/46565539/articles
  2. , Available here: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-04-16-whats-cooking-today-oven-baked-kingklip-with-honey-chilli-and-lemon-sauce/

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