Quillfish (Ptilichthys Goodei): Habitat, Anatomy, Diet & Other Facts

The quillfish named Ptilichthys Goode has a blended name of two words, i.e ptilon means quill and ichthys means fish. It depicts the appearance of a feathered, sleek, and slender fish. It is a species of marine ray-finned fish. 

The body of quillfish has sharp spines that run in a line along the dorsal fin. They are carnivores and feed on small invertebrates. They can also inflate their bodies like blowfish to avoid predators.

Having  a slithering sensation and a miniature body tickles your senses. Have you ever thought of where it might be located in the world and in what number it is found in the ocean? 

You need to stay on the page and explore with us to know this and know more. Your company may help us describe it better for its conservation.  


About Quillfish – A Quick Biology

Let us move step by step for a better orientation of the species. 

Scientific name Ptilichthys Goodei
HabitatOregon, Bering Sea, Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk
DietCarnivores- crustaceans, tadpoles and sea worms, sometimes eggs of other fishes
Life Span One year or a little longer (an estimation)
Geographical rangeBoth east and west Pacific ocean
WeightUp to 2.2 lb(1 kg)
SizeUP to 3.3 in(33.7 cm)

Description and Anatomy of Quillfish

Quillfish belongs to the genus Ptilichthys. The family is monotypic, which means it doesn’t have any subclasses. In advanced research, this family was placed in the suborder Zoarcoidei under Scorpaeniformes.

The quillfish has a slender and long body. The body is eel-like and has many rayed fins. The body has a fleshy ending which is not bony. The dorsal and anal fins are like the vanes of a feather. Pelvic fins are absent. 

The mouth has a fleshy projection at the lower jaw. The dorsal fins at the back of the fish are joined and run to the caudal fin. The dorsal fins are made up of 90 isolated low spines. 190 soft rays follow these. 

As the body shape tells it, the pectoral fins are present, but the pelvic fins and girdles are lacking. Unlike the common fish, quillfish have a single pair of nostrils. The teeth are sharp and arranged in a single row. 

The teeth are conical in shape and dense. The body has a length of 39 cm. This length doesn’t include the dorsal fin, which hovers as an extension. 

Physical Characteristics / Appearance of Quillfish

Talking about the appearance, it has a tiny mouth, and a line of tiny hooked spines on the back going from head to tail. The tail is as thin as a thread and the body has serpentine movements. It looks like a quill pen with a sleek snake-like flexible body. 

The head is attached at one end and comprises 4 to 7 % of the body. The body has a dark line or streak running all over the back. The color of the body is orange or yellow to greenish gray. 

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Overall, the body is translucent. Like most bony fishes, they have cycloid scales scattered on the body.

Etymology of Quillfish

The name of the species Ptilichthys Goodie has multiple explanations. The generic name Ptilichthys gives an allusion to feather-like fish. The specific name refers to American Ichthyologist George Brown Goode. 

Behaviors of Quillfish

Quillfish’s living style and behaviors depend on its living site and feed-

  • It is a nocturnal fish that comes to the ocean’s surface at night.
  • It prefers to live in deep water at a temperature range of fewer than 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • It lives in small groups with the members of its species. 
  • It is attracted to lights, so it is found near the ocean surface at night.
  • It buries itself underground in the water bodies till it comes out at night.
  • It interacts and communicates with its partner via a courtship display. 

Habitat, Range, and Distribution of Quillfish

The quillfish live in a wide range of oceans.  You can find them in the northern North Pacific Ocean from the Bering Sea in the north and south to Oregon in the eastern Pacific. 

They are present in the Sea of Japan and Okhotsk in the western Pacific. Quillfish is a type of demersal fish that live near the ocean ground. 

Adult quilfish are found in shallow waters.  They are distributed to 360 m depth along the nearshore shelf of the North Pacific. 

Feeding Habits / Diet of Quillfish

You should remember where these fish belong to know what they eat. There are theories for its diet as per evolution. However, it is basically a carnivore. 

Theoretically, they have a feeding time after dusk. And as they belong to the Zoarcoidei, their diet might be seen under this fact. 

They hunt tiny invertebrates, including mollusks, crustaceans, worms and echinoderms. The number of teeth in a row indicates that they stick to the same diet.  

Life Cycle and Reproduction System of Quillfish

According to marine biology, the female undergoes sexual maturity to start the reproduction procedure successfully. This sexual maturity occurs after four months of conception.  

In quillfish, the process is external fertilization. The male releases the sperm in water, and the female releases the eggs. They combine to fertilize the egg and form the larvae, which will mature over time and come out in the water. 

Let us see how the quillfish matures and repeats the cycle of life. It all can be fragmented into steps to understand better:

  1. In the egg stage, the female in the water releases slimy and sticky transparent eggs. 
  2. When the sperm unites, the larva is formed, which stays in the water to mature. It survives on plankton and stays hidden in mud from predators. It is the larva stage.
  3. In the juvenile stage, the larva stays on the ocean floor to become a juvenile that feeds on crustaceans and other prey to grow fast. 
  4. In the adult stage, the larva matures to become an adult and stays safe from predators while developing its spines. 
  5. In the last stage of reproduction, the adult becomes sexually mature and breeds to start the cycle again. 
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The age limit of quillfish is debatable. It depends upon predators, disease, pollution and environmental problems. Although the exact figure is unknown, the estimated time comprises more than a year.  

Importance in Ecosystem

It is interesting to know how the quillfish’s eating habits help them maintain the ecosystem. As discussed earlier, quillfish eats crustaceans, mollusks and other small organisms. While sharks and dolphins eat quillfish. 

This is a two-way process. Eating crustaceans and mollusks by quillfish help control the overpopulation of these small organisms in the marine environment. Similarly, quillfish becomes a food source for big sea animals like sharks and dolphins to save their population. 

Predators of Quillfish

Research on marine life has given instances of which animals eat quillfish. Pacific cod caught from the Bering sea and Kamchatka Peninsula was having traces of quillfish in its stomach. It was also found in Chinook Salmon from southeast Alaska and Coho salmon from Vancouver Island. 

Positive and Negative Importance for Humans

Since the quillfish is not in direct contact with humans, finding any specific positive impact on human life is in vain. However, its benefits to the ecosystem definitely affect human life, even indirectly.

On the other hand, the flesh of quillfish is not a healthy diet and can cause illness. So it would negatively affect human health if taken. The spines can cause pain or swelling if they accidentally puncture a person. 

Some Amazing Facts About Quillfish

Quillfish has its own special features to make it stand out:

  • Its long, slimy and streamlined body helps it look more like a snake.
  • It is not seen during the day and comes out to feed during the night. 
  • The species is sort of sluggish with a slimy exoskeleton. 
  • It looks like an eel or a snake to scare any human passing by.
  • It is attracted to lights. It means that they are photosensitive. 
  • The fish is hydrodynamic and said to be quite a fast swimmer. 
  • The male quillfish is slightly bigger in size with a longer tail than the female. Also, both have the same names without any gender specification. 
  • The baby quillfish amend themselves on their own after birth. 
  • A Pokemon cartoon gush is named after this quill fish, which does not resemble the real one.

Is Quillfish a Venomous?

No, it is not venomous or poisonous. It is only the slithering appearance of the fish which mistakes it for being venomous. It is said to be a sea serpent without venom.

Are Quillfish Rare? What’s Their Conservation Status and Population?

Having no direct predator, it is not typically considered a rare species. They are observed to be abundant. It is a bottom lover in the ocean and stays buried in soft mud during the day. 

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According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, it is considered the “least concern,” meaning it does not come under the threat of extinction. 

However, its population is impacted by ocean temperature change, habitat degradation, overfishing and ocean water acidity level. 

How Is Quillfish Hunted or Caught?

Quilfish is not a common or distinctive marine species to make a big difference in human activities. So no such instance of it being hunted is found. 

Its presence in Coho Salmon, Pacific Cod and Chinook Salmon shows its way of being hunted. This happens when these fishes are foraging in soft bottoms for invertebrate food.

How Can We Protect and Conserve Quillfish?

  • Avoiding overfishing and helping conservation centers stop habitat degradation would serve the purpose. 
  • Avoiding petting the fish is equally important as it is sensitive to light and in an aquarium, it would be exposed to light, which can be pretty dangerous for the species. 
  • Another important point is if the governments implement the laws strictly, then it will restrict catching these fish in the coastal areas. 
  • We must ensure a safe ocean environment for their safe breeding or reproduction. 

Note: Extensive research on these species’ habitat, population and threats can open an insight into increasing their number and protect them from extinction. 

How Does the Quillfish Communicate with Others of Its Species?

The way of communication by the quillfish is not commonly observed. It is only that the males have to attract females, so they show courtship displays. They may change color into a brighter tone. They also show aggression toward other males as a dominant behavior. 


What are the common names of quillfish?

The sea serpent without venom has many names according to its distinctive adaptations. some familiar names are as follows: 

  • Goode’s sand devil
  • Goode’s stargazer
  • Pacific sand stargazer

All these attributes are due to the adaptations like eyes on the top of the head to stay hidden in the sand and attack prey.  

Is there any threat to humans from quillfish?

No, there is no stated threat to humans from this species. If humans accidentally come into contact with it, its spines can cause pain or swelling if they puncture the human skin. 

Can humans eat quillfish?

Quillfish are technically edible. But they are not considered a healthy diet or consumed as regular food. Even if they have to be eaten, they need proper and careful cooking to avoid dangers like handling spines. 

Is Quillfish a migratory species?

Quillfish is generally a nonmigratory fish. It remains in muddy bottoms and shallow reefs. It covers short distances and even if it does migrate to long distances, the research is still to shed light on the area. 


Quillfish Ptilichthys Goodie is less known, rather a hidden delicacy hovering underneath soft mud. Its habitat, behaviors and ecology are still under the research process. Commonly mistaken for an eel or snake, it can race your heart if you dive in and find it up front. Quillfish is, however, a stuff to discuss, due to its unique attributes. 

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