November 21, 2020
AZ Animals Staff
Wolffish Scientific ClassificationKingdom: Animalia
Scientific Name: Anarhichadidae
Wolffish Conservation Status:Endangered
Wolffish Fun Fact:The wolffish has impressive canines with a powerful bite force!
Group Behavior: Solitary/Pairs
Fun Fact: The wolffish has impressive canines with a powerful bite force!
Estimated Population Size: Unknown
Biggest Threat: Habitat destruction and accidental catches
Most Distinctive Feature: The long eel-like body and sharp teeth
Other Name(s): Sea wolf
Habitat: Coastal waters
Predators: Sharks and humans
Common Name: Wolffish
Number Of Species: 5
Wolffish Physical Characteristics:Colour: Brown, Grey, Blue, White, Green
Skin Type: Scales
Lifespan: At least 12 years
Weight: Up to 50 pounds
Length: Up to 7.5 feet
With its sharp canines, powerful jaws, and carnivorous lifestyle, the wolffish has a fearsome and devil-like appearance that lets you know it is a true predator of the sea.
The name derives from its resemblance to the famous canine wolf species, but the similarities end there. The wolffish is a rather solitary hunter that forms tight-knit bonds with its mate. It is also an ambush predator and not a pack animal. The wolffish is an unfortunate victim of humanity’s destructive fishing practices, and several species are now in peril.
4 Incredible Wolffish Facts!
- The wolffish is also known as the sea wolf, devil fish, or eel wolf in some places.
- The wolffish is a type of demersal fish that inhabits the bottom of the sea.
- The wolffish can thrive in the Arctic regions as far north as Greenland. It has evolved antifreeze proteins which circulate in the blood to keep its body functioning properly in the cold waters of the north.
- These fish has a very powerful bite force that can crush the hard shell of mollusks and crustaceans almost instantly. Curiously, it does not usually hunt or feed on the soft flesh of other fish.
Wolffish Scientific Name
The wolffish is a family of species that goes by the scientific name of Anarhichadidae. This apparently derives from a Greek term meaning to climb up. They are most closely related to eelpouts, gunnels, and quillfish in the order of Perciformes. This is actually one of the most diverse orders of animals in the world. It comprises more than 10,000 species and 40% of all bony fish.
There are currently five documented species of these fish divided among two genera. Four of these species reside in the genus Anarhichas, while the wolf eel is the only species in the genus of Anarrhichthys. Here is a list of all five wolffish species. The main difference between them is their appearance and location.
- Atlantic Wolffish: Featuring a blue-gray body, a large dorsal fin, and light underside, this species resides in a stretch of territory between Labrador, Massachusetts, Greenland, Iceland, the North Sea area, and the coasts of Norway and Russia. It also resides as far south as France and Spain. The scientific name for this species is Anarhichas lupus (lupus means wolf in Latin).
- Spotted Wolffish: Also known as a leopard fish, this species inhabits both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean between Russia and Canada. Featuring dark spots, the color varies between olive green and brown.
- Northern Wolffish: Also known as the rock turbot, the bull-headed catfish, the Arctic wolffish, and many other names, this species is native to the North Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans.
- Bering Wolffish: As the name implies, this species is found around the Pacific regions of Russia and Alaska.
- Wolf Eel: This species has a very long body that resembles an eel, but it is actually a pure wolffish. It resides in the North Pacific region.
These fish appears quite ugly, grizzled, and almost devil like to the human eye, but looks can be deceiving. There is nothing particularly aggressive about the wolffish compared to any other carnivore, whether appealing or not to our visual senses. The wolffish is characterized by its incredibly long body (up to 7.5 feet), a big head, slender tail, powerful jaws, and multiple rows of teeth, some of which project outward from the mouth even when it’s closed.
The most common colors are blue, gray, brown, and olive green sometimes accompanied by stripes along the side of the body. It has very rudimentary and reduced scales almost hidden in the skin. Most species have a long dorsal fin running the entire length of the back and another fin covering much of the stomach and pelvic areas. The wolffish moves through the water very slowly by waving its body back and forth like an eel.
Wolffish Distribution, Population, and Habitat
The wolffish resides in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at depths between 1,000 feet and 2,000 feet. For most of the day, the wolffish lies patiently in crevices or caves to surprise and ambush unsuspecting prey that happen to pass by. This sedentary lifestyle is a deliberate tactic to kill prey in the most efficient manner possible, since the wolffish is not very fast.
Several species of wolffish have been threatened by humans. It is rarely consumed in large enough quantities for overfishing to be a problem, but in some parts of the Atlantic, population numbers have declined drastically as a result of habitat destruction and accidental catches.
Some trawling methods are so indiscriminate that they cause both problems at the same time. As the net is dragged across the bottom of the sea, it disrupts habitats and catches everything in its path, including huge masses of wolffish eggs, which may eradicate an entire generation of the species. One scientist estimated that trawling affected every inch of the New England seafloor between 1984 and 1990.
And even when it doesn’t affect the wolffish directly, trawling will catch other animals, thus reducing the abundance of prey on which the wolffish relies for survival. Without appropriate conservation and population management efforts, some wolffish are facing the real possibility of extinction.
Wolffish Predators and Prey
The wolffish is an opportunistic bottom feeder that will wait for the prey to come to it. With its sharp canines, this creature is well-adapted for crunching into the tough shells of crabs, clams, sea urchins, starfish, and other hard-shelled prey. It plays an important role in the ecosystem by keeping these fast reproducing creatures in check.
Because of its size and ferocity, the wolffish has relatively few regular predators besides sharks and humans. Even then it is hardly the first choice of prey, because the wolffish can inflict a very painful bite on humans or any other creature in defense of itself. Otherwise, though, it is not very aggressive.
Wolffish Reproduction and Lifespan
The wolffish has a rather unusual reproduction cycle. In the spawning season, which peaks around September and October, it forms bonded pairs and sometimes even mates for life. Unlike many species of fish, in which the females release unfertilized eggs into the water, the wolffish fertilizes the eggs internally. The female then lays thousands of eggs in huge masses between seaweed or crevices.
It takes around three to nine months for the eggs to fully hatch. Both parents play a pivotal role in raising the young, but the father has the main task of protecting the larvae in the nest for the next few months before they become independent. The young fry reaches sexual maturity at a relatively late age of five or sometimes even more (this late maturity also means that it takes time for numbers to recover when they fall, complicating conservation efforts). The typical wolffish has a life expectancy of more than 12 years.
Wolffish in Fishing and Cooking
Because of the relatively few numbers of species (and the great depths at which they reside), the wolffish does not feature prominently in human cuisine anywhere around the world. If you can find the meat at a local restaurant or store, however, then this delicacy can be sautéed, sauced, baked, or even grilled. The meat has a rather firm texture and subtle taste that goes along well with many different foods.View all 31 animals that start with W
Wolffish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What kind of fish is a wolfish?
The wolffish belongs to the class of ray-finned fish known as the Actinopterygii. It is named for the shape of the dorsal fin and ventral fins along the body. Other common types of ray-finned fish include tuna, swordfish, salmon, and cod. However, the wolffish evolved so long ago that it more closely resembles other eel-like fish such as eelpouts and gunnels.
Can you eat wolffish?
Yes, the wolffish is perfectly edible for the human palate, and many places sell the meat. But perhaps because of how relatively uncommon it is, this cuisine is not as popular as many other types of fish.
What does wolffish taste like?
The white flesh of wolffish has a sweet, subtle flavor. Some people have described that it tastes like a lobster.
How do you cook wolffish?
The wolffish can be baked, broiled, fried, grilled, steamed, and sautéed with relative ease.
Where are wolffish found?
The wolffish is found along the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It dwells on the seafloor to capture passing prey with its sharp and fearsome-looking teeth.
- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/wolffish
- Conservation Law Foundation, Available here: chrome-extension://ohfgljdgelakfkefopgklcohadegdpjf/http://www.clf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Wolffish-fact-sheet.pdf