What is a Lizardfish?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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A lizardfish is a fish in the family Synodontidae. These fish are named for their distinctively toothy appearance, which is rather lizardlike, especially when combined with the cylindrical bodies of many lizardfish species. Two other fish families, Pseudotrichonotidae and Bathysauridae, are also sometimes colloquially known as lizardfish. Both of these families are very small and their range is more limited than that of the true lizardfish.

The true lizardfish have a number of similar physical traits across the more than 40 species found in the Synodontidae family. Their mouths are very large and lined with sharp teeth and they are equipped with pectoral and pelvic fins below and dorsal and adipose fins above. The tails of these fish are deeply forked. In color, the fish can be greenish, brown, grayish, or cream colored, depending on the species and the waters it lives in. They are heavily spotted and mottled, allowing them to camouflage in many environments.

Lizardfish prefer temperate to warm waters and they are bottom dwellers, found in inshore waters at relatively shallow depths. The fish take advantage of their coloring to blend in with the ocean floor and have been known to bury themselves in sand and silt deposits to hide from potential prey and predators alike. The largest lizardfish species can be up to two feet (60 centimeters) in length. Mating habits for these fish vary, depending on the species and some bear live young.


These fish are highly active hunters that pursue and strike at prey. When successful at capturing prey, the fish will take a break from hunting to eat and rest before resuming hunting activities. They are not usually dangerous to larger animals like humans, although they are sometimes encountered by swimmers and divers who may be unsettled by their teeth. While the fish are occasionally caught by people on fishing trips and on commercial fishing boats, they are usually discarded because they are too bony to be good sources of food.

The Bathysauridae are deep water bottom dwellers. They are found in much deeper waters than true lizardfish, and while they share some physical characteristics, they tend to be lighter in color, like a lot of organisms designed to live in very deep water. The Pseudotrichonotidae are small relatives found exclusively in the southeastern regions of the Pacific Ocean. They are known as sand-diving or sand-living lizardfishes, a reference to the fact that these bottom dwellers prefer to inhabit sandy environments.


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