Humpback Anglerfish

The Humpback Anglerfish is a type of fish that is a part of the family of ‘black seadevils’. They have an unusual, ‘angry-looking’ and scary face. It is also referred to as the Johnson’s anglerfish or the humpback blackdevil. They use a bioluminescent spine with a distinctly diffused blue light to move around in dark waters. Recognized immediately for their unusual appearance, they are also considered to be some of the ‘ugliest’ creatures in this planet.      

Humpback Anglerfish Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Lophiiformes
  • Family: Melanocetidae
  • Genus: Melanocetus
  • Species: M. johnsonii
  • Scientific Name: Melanocetus johnsonii

Physical Description/Characteristics

Here is a look at the distinct physical characteristics of the Humpback Anglerfish.

Physical Description
  • Body: These fishes have a normally dark colored body with shades of grayish black or brown. The structure of the body is primarily framed out of flesh and soft bones.
  • Size: Sexually dimorphism is noticed in the Humpback Anglerfish when it comes to their size. While the males can only grow up to 2.9 cm, the females are unusually large and can have a size of 18 cm.
  • Head: The Humpback Anglerfishes are known to have huge heads with large, crescent-shaped mouths that are equipped with large teeth. They also have large nostrils and eyes.
  • Teeth: Both jaws are lined with extremely sharp translucent teeth.
  • Fins: The fins and the tails have a coarse structure. The dorsal fins have got 13 rays to 15 rays, the pectoral fins consist of 17 to 22 rays and the anal fin has got 4 rays.


The lifespan of the Humpback Anglerfish is unknown.


The Humpback Anglerfish can be seen in almost all parts of the world, both in tropical as well as temperate areas of the oceans. They have been spotted in high numbers along East China Sea and South China Sea.


Humpback Anglerfishes are mostly found within the deepest waters of the planet’s oceans. Since they are found at depths of 3000 feet and beyond, the area of the water is completely dark. The complete lack of sunlight in such depths also makes the water extremely cold and almost freezing.

Humpback Anglerfish habitat


So far it has not been possible to study the behavior of these fishes as most of the time they live in extreme depths of ocean bodies. The males are very small which means that they are not predatory. On the other hand, the females are very large and therefore tend to be more dominant in their behavior. Males are not aggressive hunters and they prefer to ambush their prey, silently waiting for them to come closer as they grab them. The light that these fishes have on their foreheads is used for attracting the prey. These fishes move back and forth to cause a pulsating effect of the light so that this attracts other fishes and crustaceans which can be eaten as food.


The diet of Humpback Anglerfishes mostly consists of other small fishes, turtles, shrimps and small squids.

Humpback Anglerfish diet

Mating and Reproduction

Mating period for the Humpback Anglerfish is shorter than some of the other types of anglerfishes. The body structure of the males makes it easier for them to find females for mating.

Humpback Anglerfish reproduction

Male anglerfishes use their body scent and light for detecting the females. After they have found the females, the males use their hooked teeth to attach themselves to the female and starts drinking the blood from the female while supplying sperm for fertilizing the female’s eggs.

After the short mating spell comes to an end, the male anglerfish starts looking for another female to attach itself with. Reproduction in these fishes happens through external fertilization. The female fish releases the eggs or ovum in the water whereas the males immediately provide their sperm and this leads to fertilization of the eggs.

Life Cycle

Females lay their eggs on a layer of gelatinous material which usually floats on the surface of the water. The eggs start hatching to larvae soon and they feed on the tiny planktons till they grow up to a considerable size. Once the larvae start to mature, they are going to go back to the depths of ocean.

The males are very small and only reach up to a size of 3 centimeters in length. As they reach sexual maturity, they start searching for females to mate with them sexually.


Have a look at the distinct adaptations that the humpback anglerfish has developed.

  • The unusual body shape of the humpback anglerfish makes it difficult for them to swim quickly. This limitation has been compensated adequately by their bioluminescent spine that is located on their foreheads. This glows brightly in the dark to attract the prey.
  • The bioluminescent spine can also lighten up their scary face which can repel potential predators.
  • They have a rounded body which renders it easier for these fishes to gulp their prey down.
  • Since they have a very large mouth, it helps them to capture and eat preys that are much larger in size compared to them.
  • These fishes have a sensitive lateral line which in turn enables them to sense underwater movements as well as water pressure. The facial dots also help them to detect the presence of other living beings in the ocean water.
  • The teeth of these fishes are very sharp and they are angled inwards which makes it difficult for their prey to escape once they are caught.


There are no known predatory creatures for the humpback anglerfish. It is believed that these fishes are heading the food chain which means that they are mostly predators and not preys.

Conservation Status

IUCN 3.1 has listed the humpback anglerfish under Least Concern category as they are found in plenty in all parts of the world.

Interesting Facts

Check out the highly interesting facts about the humpback anglerfish. 

  • Instead of swimming, these fishes normally wobble in the water because of their unusual roundish body.
  • The light in their bioluminescent spine comes from photoplankton which is a type of tiny bacteria.
  • There is very little understanding about the males as only eight specimens have been obtained so far.
  • The humpback anglerfish is only one of the six anglerfish species found in ocean waters.
  • The humpback anglerfish do not use their teeth to kill the prey, at least not unless it tries to escape. Instead, they prefer to gulp and ingest the prey. This method of hunting is referred to as angling and it is this that has earned them their name.


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