Sphenanthias macrophthalmus, from Smith-Vaniz & Johnson (2016).

Belongs within: Percomorpharia.

Strike up the bandfish
Published 10 May 2019

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.

Systematics of Cepolidae
<==Cepolidae [Cepoloidea]ND13
    |    |--AcanthocepolaS-V01
    |    |    |--A. abbreviata (Valenciennes in Cuvier & Valenciennes 1835)S-V01
    |    |    |--A. krustensternii (Temminck & Schlegel 1845)S-V01
    |    |    `--A. limbata (Valenciennes in Cuvier & Valenciennes 1835) (see below for synonymy)S-V01
    |    `--Cepola Linné 1766BR05
    |         |--C. australis Ogilby 1899S-V01
    |         |--C. macrophthalma (Linnaeus 1758)LD09
    |         |--C. robusta Nolf 1988P93
    |         `--C. schlegelii Bleeker 1854S-V01
    `--Owstoniinae [Owstoniidae]S-V01
         |--Owstonia Tanaka 1908S-V01
         |    |--O. dorypterus (Fowler 1934)S-V01
         |    |--O. maccullochi Whitley 1934S-V01
         |    `--O. totomiensis Tanaka 1908S-V01
         `--Sphenanthias Weber 1913S-V01
              |--S. grammodon (Fowler 1934)S-V01
              |--S. macrophthalmus Fourmanoir 1985S-V01
              |--S. nigromarginatus Fourmanoir 1985S-V01
              |--S. sibogae Weber 1913 [incl. S. pectinifer Myers 1939]S-V01
              `--S. tosaensisND13

Acanthocepola limbata (Valenciennes in Cuvier & Valenciennes 1835) [incl. A. cuneatus Smith 1935, Cepola indica Day 1888]S-V01

*Type species of generic name indicated


[BR05] Bouchet, P., & J.-P. Rocroi. 2005. Classification and nomenclator of gastropod families. Malacologia 47 (1–2): 1–397.

[JR10] Jordan, D. S., & R. E. Richardson. 1910. Check-list of the species of fishes known from the Philippine archipelago. Bureau of Printing: Manila.

[LD09] Li, B., A. Dettaï, C. Cruaud, A. Couloux, M. Desoutter-Meniger & G. Lecointre. 2009. RNF213, a new nuclear marker for acanthomorph phylogeny. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 50: 345–363.

[ND13] Near, T. J., A. Dornburg, R. I. Eytan, B. P. Keck, W. L. Smith, K. L. Kuhn, J. A. Moore, S. A. Price, F. T. Burbrink, M. Friedman & P. C. Wainwright. 2013. Phylogeny and tempo of diversification in the superradiation of spiny-rayed fishes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 110 (31): 12738–12743.

[P93] Patterson, C. 1993. Osteichthyes: Teleostei. In: Benton, M. J. (ed.) The Fossil Record 2 pp. 621–656. Chapman & Hall: London.

[S-V01] 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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