Rabbit Fish

 Rabbit Fish

  • Scientific name: Chimaera monstrosa
  • Also know as: Rat-fish, Chimaera
  • Size: Up to 5ft (including tail)
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: N/a
  • IUCN status: NT (Near Threatened)
  • Distribution: Found in the deep water Rockall Trough to the west of Ireland and the Faroe-Shetland Channel to the north of Scotland, although can be found elsewhere around the British Isles and throughout Europe.
  • Feeds on: Marine invertebrates, crustaceans, prawns and shrimps.
  • Description: Broad head with long, tapering body which continues along to a whip-like tail. A large spine which secretes venom is situated in front of the first triangular dorsal fin, and the second dorsal fin runs the length of the body and is edged black on the top. Pectoral fins are large and broad. Lateral line is light in colour and almost meets the large eyes which are green in colour. Rest of body is usually mottled dark and light brown, usually with silvery tint and a pale underside.

Rabbit fish are a medium sized deep water fish. The total length of a rabbit fish can be as long as 5ft (but this includes the long, thin tail) and the maximum weight is around 5-6lbs. The rabbit fish is classed as a deep-sea fish and is generally found in waters between 100 and 1000 metres deep. This is not as deep as most of the other species featured in this section, and means their range extends beyond the Rockall Trough and Faroe-Shetland Channel areas. Rabbit fish are thought to come into waters as shallow as 40-50 metres in summer months, and when reaching the end of their life the rabbit fish may come into inshore coastal waters to die (the king of herrings displays similar behaviour).


This species is found throughout Europe wherever there is sufficient depth of water. It is found around the British Isles (especially in the deep water Rockall Trough and Faroe Shetland Channel, but elsewhere as well) and its range extends southwards throughout the Mediterranean Sea. It is also found northwards into Scandinavian waters as far as Svalbard and into the north east Atlantic as far as the coastline of Greenland.

Feeding and Reproduction

Rabbit fish feed on the seabed. They do not hunt other fish or squid but instead move slowly in small groups where they feed on any of the deep-water bottom dwelling creatures they come across such as deep-sea prawns and shrimps, crabs and other crustaceans as well as all manner of marine invertebrates. Lacking a tail-fin rabbit fish move in an ungraceful and slow fashion, relying on the power generated from their pectoral fins. Rabbit fish reproduce in an unusual manner – the male has a retractable sexual organ on his forehead which is used to hold the female in place while the eggs are fertilised. Eggs are released in cases which look similar to the mermaid’s purses of the lesser-spotted dogfish. Like many deeper water fish species the rabbit fish is long lived, slow growing and late maturing. It is thought that rabbit fish can live for over thirty years and do not reach sexual maturity until they are at least ten.

Human Interactions with Rabbit Fish

The first dorsal fin of the rabbit fish contains a long and pointed spine which contains venom. While this venom is thought to be relatively weak in terms of the impact it has on humans the spine itself can inflict injuries on people handling this species. While rabbit fish do not have any real commercial value they are caught in large numbers as the bycatch of deep-sea trawlers which can seriously deplete numbers. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) currently classes the rabbit fish as Near Threatened.

Other Species of Rabbit Fish

Rabbit Fish Other Species

Small-eyed rabbitfish, left, and large-eyed, right.

There are several other sub-species of rabbit fish, most notably the large-eyed rabbit fish (Hydrolagus mirabilis) and the small-eye rabbit fish (Hydrolagus affinis). The large-eyed rabbit fish is also considered to be Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. However, the IUCN class the small-eyed rabbit fish as a species of Least Concern as this species lives at greater depths than the other two and generally avoids the deep-sea trawls and therefore being caught as bycatch.

The tropical species of fish from the Siganidae family are also known as rabbitfish but have no connection to the species featured on this page.

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