Field of Science

Strike up the Bandfish

The diversity of fishes can be absolutely overwhelming and, as a result, there a some distinctive groups that fail to get their time in the spotlight. For this post, I'm briefly highlighting one of the lesser-known fish families, the bandfishes of the Cepolidae.

Australian bandfish Cepola australis at home in its burrow, copyright Rudie H. Kuiter.


Cepolids are small fish (growing to about 40 cm at most with many species much smaller) that are widespread in the eastern Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific but nowhere common. They have a laterally compressed, tapering body and a lanceolate caudal (tail) fin. They have an angled mouth that is relatively large compared to their size and pelvic fins with a single spine and five segmented rays, four of which are branched (Smith-Vaniz 2001). Two subfamilies are recognised, the Cepolinae and Owstoniinae. The Cepolinae are particularly elongate in body form and have the dorsal and anal fins connected by membranes to the caudal fin; these three fins are all distinctly separate in the Owstoniinae. Cepolines are divided between two genera: Acanthocepola species have scaly cheeks and spines on the preopercular margin whereas Cepola have naked cheeks and no such spines. Classification of Owstoniinae has been a bit less settled. A recent revision of the subfamily recognised only a single genus Owstonia (Smith-Vaniz & Johnson 2016), synonymising the genus Sphenanthias previously distinguished by features of the lateral line. As an indication of how little-known cepolids are, Smith-Vaniz & Johnson's revision more than doubled the number of known species of owstoniine from fifteen to 36 .

Male Owstonia hawaiiensis, from Smith-Vaniz & Johnson (2016).


Cepolids are most commonly found in relatively deep water, up to about 475 m. They are not targeted by any significant fisheries though Wikipedia claims that the oldest known recipe from a named author is for the cooking of bandfish. Cepolinae live on sandy or muddy bottoms on continental shelves where they excavate burrows in which they insert themselves with the head protruding above the substrate. Owstonia species are free-swimming, more commonly found near rocky bottoms on upper slopes or around atolls. The diet, where known, appears to be composed of zooplankton though Smith-Vaniz & Johnson (2016) suggested on the basis of tooth morphology that Owstonia were detritivores for at least part of their life cycle.

REFERENCES

Smith-Vaniz, W. F. 2001. Cepolidae. Bandfishes. In: Carpenter, K. E., & V. H. Niem (eds) FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes. The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific vol. 5. Bony fishes part 3 (Menidae to Pomacentridae) pp. 3331–3332. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Rome.

Smith-Vaniz, W. F., & G. D. Johnson. 2016. Hidden diversity in deep-water bandfishes: review of Owstonia with descriptions of twenty-one new species (Teleostei: Cepolidae: Owstoniinae). Zootaxa 4187 (1): 1–103.

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