Ptilichthys goodei ,commonly known as Quillfish, is a kind of saltwater ray-finned fish that can be found all the way from the North Pacific to the sea of Japan. The Greek word Ptilon, which means “quill,” is combined with the noun ichthys to form the generic name Ptilichthys, meaning “fish.” 

This is a reference to the Quillfish’s feather-like appearance due to its extraordinary length, slenderness, and long hind and anal fins. The Quillfish is part of a vast family of its kind, and some aspects of its existence are still uncovered; however, it is commonly mistaken for an eel or a sea serpent.

Featured Image Credit: Dive The Dark

Appearance

The Quillfish is shaped like the main feather of a bird or a porcupine pen because of its unusually long, slim figure and long-based towering dorsal and anal fins. The body of a Quillfish grows to a maximum of 14-16 in and is mostly transparent, with an overall color ranging from yellow or tangerine to dark greenish gray. On the Quillfish, one nostril and one nare are present. In contrast to the jaw’s lack of additional teeth, the sharp, conical teeth are present and are organized in a single dense row.

Quillfish typical appearance with notable head size
Quillfish typical appearance with notable head size

Credit: Jim Boon

There is a broad fleshy protrusion located at the front of the bottom jaw, and the little head only makes up between 4 and 7 percent of the lengths of the body. It lacks a pelvic girdle and has rounded pectoral fins but no pelvic fins.

Diet

The diet of Quillfish is not entirely understood. However, they are attracted to lights during nighttime, and it’s theorized that their feeding time occurs after dusk. Since Quillfish fall under the Zoarcoidei suborder, then we can have a clue of what their diet looks like.

Most Zoarcoids are grazing predators on tiny invertebrates, including worms, crustaceans, mollusks, and echinoderms. Many change their diets according to the period or as they become older, but a sizable portion is dietary specialists, a scenario that is frequently confined to a single species. Due to the rows of teeth, it is likely that Quillfish will resort to the same food source as mentioned above. 

Habitat

Quillfish are found in both the east and west Pacific Ocean: from central Oregon north to Alaska, through the Aleutian Islands to the Sea of Okhotsk and the Kuril Islands, and south to Japan. Adult Quillfish is often discovered in shallow waters lying on or submerged in soft terrain (like mud or sand). Near night, juvenile Quillfish may be seen at the surface; it is assumed that they are drawn to lights that shine into the water.

Close-up of Quillfish in the dark, highly drawn towards dive camera
Close-up of Quillfish in the dark, highly drawn towards dive camera

Credit: Steve Taylor YVR

When it comes to depth range, Quillfish can be found anywhere between the shoreline all the way down to 1,200 ft underwater. Since the temperature that ranges in deep water is less than 86 degrees Fahrenheit, Quillfish species like to stay there.

Reproduction

In terms of reproduction, Quillfish will initiate a courtship display. The occurrence of such behavior will occur after dusk, and it’s most often termed an external mating procedure. After mating, the female Quillfish digs a tiny hole in the ocean floor, where she deposits her eggs. The male Quillfish then fertilizes the eggs externally.

However, in regard to the caretaking of the larvae, not much is known. It is theorized that the larvae will fend for themselves all the way through the juvenile and the adult phases, where the process starts all over again.

Threats

The Pacific Ocean population of the Quillfish species is little understood. According to reports, they are abundant and haven’t been assessed by the IUCN. Quillfish are not particularly fished for commercial reasons.

Quillfish swimming between rocks during night time
Quillfish swimming between rocks during nighttime

Credit: Jim Boon

There have been reports of Quillfish in the stomachs of Pacific cod that have been caught in the Bering Sea and in the area of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Pacific cod presumably came into contact with the Quillfish while foraging for invertebrate food in soft bottom sediments. In addition, Quillfish were discovered in the stomachs of Chinook salmon captured in Southeast Alaska and a coho salmon collected off the west coast of Vancouver Island. However, this behavior is not usual, and direct predators can’t be identified.

Facts about the Quillfish

  1. Quillfish are commonly mistaken for eels or sea serpents.
  2. Quillfish are nocturnal creatures.
  3. Quillfish are photosensitive, meaning lights grab their immediate attention.
  4. Quillfish are fast swimmers thanks to their hydrodynamic bodies.
  5. Quillfish might not have a direct predator.


FAQs

Are Quillfish dangerous?

Quillfish are not aggressive by nature. However, if they are harmed or feel threatened, they will resort to attacking as a defense mechanism. Their rows of teeth provide adequate protection and most likely will prove ineffective toward human fatality.

Are Quillfish venomous like sea serpents?

While Quillfish have a high resemblance to sea serpents and can easily make someone’s heart rate elevate, they don’t possess any more venom or lethal toxicity. Humans are not impacted at all in any form; matter of fact, it was found in other species’ stomachs without any negative effects.

Are Quillfish solitary or social creatures?

An individual Quillfish may coexist in a small group with other individuals of the same species. Additionally, they avoid potential hazards because they are afraid of larger predators. But because they are drawn to light, members of this species are frequently seen at the edge of the water at night because they are drawn to lights there.

Do Quillfish make good aquarium pets?

Due to the extreme conditions that the Quillfish is most commonly found in, being in an aquarium wouldn’t be appropriate. Their behavior is still a mystery, and the chance of this creature being erratic with other fish in the aquarium is a real possibility.