FishBase contains all recent fishes

The SPECIES table is the backbone of FishBase, and has the scientific name as its basic unit. Every bit of information in FishBase is attached directly or indirectly to at least one species and it is mostly through this table that information is accessed.

The SPECIES table covers all of the estimated 25,000 extant fishes.


The information in the SPECIES table has been derived from more than 3,500 references such as the FAO Species Catalogues (e.g., Nielsen et al. 1999), the Indo-Pacific Fishes Series (e.g., Randall, 2000), other taxonomic revisions, e.g., (Pietsch and Grobecker 1987) as well as faunal checklists such as Daget et al. (1984, 1990), Shao et al. (1992). Kottelat et al. (1993), Smith and Heemstra (1995), Myers (1999) and Smith-Vaniz et al. (1999). For a discussion of the difficulties arising from using secondary sources, see the ‘SYNONYMS table’ and the ‘Reviews’ section in the chapter ‘The Making of FishBase’.

The SPECIES table presents the valid scientific name and author of a species or subspecies and assigns it to a family, order and class. Where available, a unique English common name is given (see discussion on FishBase name below). Additional information in the SPECIES table relates to maximum age and size, habitat, uses, and general biological remarks. The references used to derive the information are given.

On a click of a button you can access additional information such as a picture of the fish, a map showing distributional information, higher taxa, synonyms, common names, available life history parameters, all references used, all colleagues who contributed or verified information, etc.

Box 4. We don’t believe in codes.

Over the years, it has often been suggested that we should use FishBase to introduce a global system of unique codes for finfish; such coding systems are especially popular with system analysts, probably because they fit well with programming languages such as assembler, FORTRAN or C and operating systems such as Unix. The following advantages of codes are usually given:

  • shorter than scientific names;

  • less storage space, faster retrieval, faster entry;

  • better grouping, e.g., at the family level; and

  • more stability than with scientific names.

However, none of these alleged advantages has stood the test of time. Coding systems that started with 3-5 digits have grown to 8-12 digits. A numbering system for all taxa would need codes of 40 or more digits (Pinborg and Paule 1990). The advent of fast computers, large storage capacity, and modern relational database software has made the listed advantages all non-issues.

Also, working with codes instead of names is prone to errors (J.-C. Hureau, pers. comm.) and it is very difficult to detect typos (W.N. Eschmeyer, pers. comm.).

The main reason why coding systems become unmanageable after a while is that the assumption of stability is wrong. As our understanding of the living world increases, two formerly separate species are found to be the same, another species is found to actually consist of two separate species, a closer study puts a certain species in a different genus, and a group of fishes thought to have a common ancestor at the family level is found to actually have two different ancestors and is split into two families. All these discoveries change the scientific name of a species and/or its place in the classification. A complex set of rules, i.e., the Zoological Code of Nomenclature (ITZN 1985, 1999) regulates the establishment and change of scientific names, and synonymies keep accurate track of these changes. Coding systems provide snapshots of the taxonomy at certain points in time. However, names continue to change and coding systems now have to keep track of former and current codes (see Smith and Heemstra (1986) as an example). Depending on the degree to which a coding system tried to incorporate the taxonomy, it might even need changes for unchanged scientific names, e.g., when a genus is transferred to another family. To avoid this problem, the recent Australian coding system (Yearsley et al. 1997) decided to continue the family classification of Greenwood et al. (1966), thus ignoring 30 years of taxonomic research (Nelson 1984, 1994; Eschmeyer 1990, 1998).

Therefore, we strongly support the view that scientific binomina with their established rules and synonymies are the ‘coding system’ that should be used globally.

Codes in FishBase (SpecCode, StockCode, SynCode, FamCode) are just counters to reduce the number of linking fields between tables. The codes are not used for data entry and they are hidden in the user interface.

In summary, any attempt to provide a stable coding system for a continuously changing taxonomy is bound to fail. Either it will perpetuate outdated knowledge, including known mistakes such as misidentifications, or it has to create and maintain extensive synonymies of code numbers, a somewhat absurd exercise.


Eschmeyer, W.N. 1990. Catalog of the genera of recent fishes. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. 697 p.

Eschmeyer, W.N., Editor. 1998. Catalog of fishes. Special Publication, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. 3 vols. 2905 p.

Greenwood, P.H., D.E. Rosen, S.H. Weitzman and G.S. Myers. 1966. Phyletic studies of teleostean fishes with a provisional classification of living forms. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 131(4):339-455.

ITZN. 1985. International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. The International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London.

ITZN. 1999. International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. The International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London, UK. 306 p.

Nelson, J.S. 1984. Fishes of the world. 2nd edition. John Wiley and Sons, New York. 523 p.

Nelson, J.S. 1994. Fishes of the world. 3rd edition. John Wiley and Sons, New York. 600 p.

Pinborg, U. and T. Paule. 1990. NCC Coding System: a presentation. The Nordic Centre, Stockholm, Sweden.

Smith, M.M. and P.C. Heemstra, Editors. 1986. Smith’s sea fishes. Springer Verlag, Berlin. 1047 p.

Yearsley, G.K., P.R. Last and G.B. Morris. 1997. Codes for Australian Aquatic Biota (CAAB): an upgraded and expanded species coding system for Australian fisheries databases. CSIRO Marine Laboratories, Report 224. CSIRO, Australia.

Rainer Froese


Author: This refers to the name of the person who first described the species and the year the description was published. An author’s name in parentheses indicates that the species has been placed in another genus since it was originally described. In the case of more than one author, the ampersand is used to indicate multiple authorship, e.g., Temminck & Schlegel, 1844. Double-click on the Author field to see the full citation in Eschmeyer’s REFERENCES database.

A unique English common name is provided

FishBase Name: A unique English common name suggested by FishBase in order to stabilize common names, and derived as follows:

an existing FAO name; or else

an existing AFS name; or else

an existing English name that has not yet been used as FishBase Name for another species.

A double click on the FishBase name field opens a spreadsheet window with a list of countries and languages using the chosen common name.

So far, we have refrained from coining common names. There are over 13,000 species without a FishBase Name (see discussion under the ‘COMMON NAMES table’, this vol.).

The species is then classified into Family, Subfamily, Order and Class following the November 2000 update of Eschmeyer (1998).

Main Ref.: This is the code number of the main source used for the nomenclature and other information in the species record. Preferably, this should be the latest revision of the respective family or genus, or an equally reliable primary source (see Sources below). Other sources used for particular information are placed in additional Ref. fields.

Clicking on the fish button gives a slideshow of all pictures available for this species in FishBase.

Clicking on the map button opens different map views when the various map options are selected. You can choose to highlight all native or introduced countries where a species occurs, plot introduction paths, or plot occurrence points up to the family, genus or species level. Special maps, available for some countries, are also offered.

Clicking on the FishBaseWeb button opens the Species Summary page in the FishBase Internet version. Species information may be more updated in this version since uploading of current information or data is done monthly.

Status information

Clicking on the Status button gives information about the current record. Most fields are for internal use only. Such fields include:

Author Ref.: Code number of the original publication which first described the species. Double-click on the field to view the full citation of the reference.

Codes in FishBase are just counters

SpecCode: Code number (counter) of the species.

FamCode: Code number (counter) of the family to which the species belongs.

Source: A single character text field that indicates what kind of reference was used, R = information derived from recent Revision (i.e., the preferred source); O = information derived from Other sources (i.e., a less reliable source, to be replaced as soon as possible).

Synopsis checked: The first field gives the number of the FishBase staff or collaborator who printed and checked the full synopsis. It is followed by a field that indicates the date when this was done.

ASFA checked: The field indicates the date when (and if) a search from the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts was made and used for the species in question.

ISSCAAP code: The International Standard Statistical Classification of Aquatic Animals and Plants (ISSCAAP) code number to which the species belongs (FAO-FIDI 1994; see also the ‘ISSCAAP table’, this vol.).

Entered, Modified and Checked: These fields give the number of the FishBase staff or collaborator as well as the date when the record was entered, modified and checked. Double-click on the number to get information on the FishBase staff or collaborator (e.g., contribution to FishBase, contact numbers, etc.).

Environmental information

You get to the following fields by clicking the Environment button.

Freshwater, Brackish and Saltwater: Yes/no fields that indicate whether the species occurs in the freshwater, brackish and/or marine environment(s), at any stage of its development.

FishBase indicates the preferred environment

Habitat: Indicates the particular environment preferred by the species, with the following choices (adapted from Holthus and Maragos 1995):

  • pelagic: occurring mainly in the water column between 0 and 200 m, not feeding on benthic organisms;

  • benthopelagic: living and/or feeding on or near the bottom, as well as in midwater, between 0 and 200 m;

  • demersal: living and/or feeding on or near the bottom, between 0 and 200 m;

  • reef-associated: living and/or feeding on or near reefs, between 0 and 200 m;

  • bathypelagic: occurring mainly in open water below 200 m, not feeding on benthic organisms; and

  • bathydemersal: living and/or feeding on or near the bottom, below 200 m.

While this classification works well for marine species, it is often difficult to apply to freshwater fish. Suggestions to improve on this are welcome.

Migrations: Migration patterns of the species, normally for spawning or feeding, with the following choices: anadromous; catadromous; amphidromous; potamodromous; limnodromous; oceanodromous; non-migratory. Descriptions of these patterns may be found using the Glossary.

Depth range: The depth range (in m) reported for juveniles and adults (but not larvae), from the most shallow to the deepest.

Common depth: The depth range (in m) where juveniles and adults are most often found. This range may also be calculated as the range within which approximately 95% of the biomass occurs.

Remarks: A text field for additional comments on the habitat, food, behavior, uses and other pertinent information.

Size and age
We record the age of the oldest specimen ever found

You get to the following fields by clicking the Size/Age button.

Longevity: Age (in years) of the oldest specimen(s) ever found in the wild and/or in captivity (reported from aquaria and ponds).

Max. length: Size (in cm) of the largest male/unsexed or female specimen ever caught. Choice of length type: SL (Standard Length); FL (Fork Length); TL (Total Length); WD (Width of disc; used only for rays); NG (not given); OT (Other);

Common length: Size (in cm) at which male/unsexed or female specimen(s) are commonly caught or marketed. Choice of length type as above.

Max. weight: Total weight (in g) of the largest male/unsexed and/or female specimen(s) ever caught.

Clicking on the L-W relationship(s) button will give, where available, a general impression of the relationship between body length and weight of the species (see the ‘LENGTH-WEIGHT table’, this vol., for more information).

Clicking on the Growth curve(s) button will give, where available, a general impression of the relationship between body length and age of the species (see the ‘POPGROWTH table’, this vol., for more information).

Box 5. Temperature and the maximum size of fish.

There are several relationships linking the environmental temperature of fishes and their maximum sizes, and graphs are available in FishBase that use plots of maximum size vs. temperature to illustrate different biological features of fishes.

The most important of these relationships refers to the fact that given sufficient evolutionary time, any large taxon will fill all potentially accessible habitats and niches, including those requiring very small and very large body sizes, leading to the ‘Full House’ of Gould (1996). This is here illustrated by a plot showing roughly the same range of sizes (from 4 to 400 cm) being ‘filled’ within the range of temperatures commonly tolerated by fishes. This is particularly evident in the version of the graph where the logarithms of the maximum lengths are used, which reduces the visual impact of a few very large species (> 200 cm) (Fig. 7).

The second biological feature of fish illustrated by the plots of maximum length vs. temperature is that within a taxonomically (and anatomically) well-defined group, maximum lengths decline with increasing temperature, as predicted by the theory of fish growth in Pauly (1979, 1994) (see also Longhurst and Pauly 1987, Chapter 9). The log-length vs. temperature plot illustrates this phenomenon as well. [This does not apply to temperatures from -2 to 3°C, wherein the phenomenon known as ‘cold adaptation’ (Wohlschlag 1961) induces stress similar to that caused by higher temperatures (Pauly 1979)].

The maximum lengths used for these graphs stem from the maximum length field of the SPECIES table; the temperatures are, for the species in question, taken as the midrange or mean of the temperature fields in the STOCKS table.


Gould, S.J. 1996. Full House: the spread of excellence from Plato to Darwin. Harmony Book, New York. 244 p.

Longhurst, A. and D. Pauly. 1987. Ecology of tropical oceans. Academic Press, San Diego. 407 p.

Pauly, D. 1979. Gill size and temperature as governing factors in fish growth: a generalization of von Bertalanffy’s growth formula. Ber. Inst. Meereskd. Universität Kiel. 63, 156 p.

Pauly, D. 1994. On the sex of fish and the gender of scientists: essays in fisheries science. Chapman and Hall, London. 250 p.

Wohlschlag, D.E. 1961. Growth of an Antarctic fish at freezing temperatures. Copeia 1961:17-18.

Daniel Pauly

Important fishes
We classify fish according to their importance to people

You get to the following fields by clicking on the Importance button.

Fisheries: Importance of the species in capture fisheries, with the following choices: highly commercial; commercial; minor commercial; subsistence fisheries; of potential interest; of no interest. The field to the right gives information about the importance and use of the species in fisheries.

Catches: Average global landings/production for the species (in t/year), with the following choices: up to 1,000; from 1,000 to 10,000; from 10,000 to 50,000; from 50,000 to 100,000; from 100,000 to 500,000; and more than 500,000 (see FAO 1995 for more information). The field to the right gives information on the countries and areas with the highest contributions to landings of the species.

Method: Two fields give the primary method used for catching the species, with the following choices in the first field: seines; trawls; dredges; liftnets; castnets; gillnets; traps; hooks and lines; various gears; others. In the second field, choices given are the various kinds of seines, trawls, gillnets, longlines, traps and others. There are several yes/no fields for other fishing methods used.

Fig. 7. Maximum length vs. temperature of Syngnathidae and miscellaneous species.


Aquaculture: Indicates the use of the species in aquaculture, with the following choices: never/rarely (default); commercial; experimental; likely future use. This is followed by a field that indicates whether the life cycle of the fish is closed or not and if in use in experimental or commercial culture systems. Core information on the use of the species on aquaculture, when available, is provided by clicking the aquaculture species Profile button (see section under Genetics and Aquaculture chapter).

Bait: Indicates the use of the species as bait in capture fisheries, with the following choices: never/rarely (default); occasionally; usually.

Most marine aquarium species are taken from the wild

Aquarium trade: Use of the fish in the aquarium trade industry, with the following choices: never/rarely (default); commercial (for fishes found in aquarium shops all around the world); potential (for fishes which are small, easy to keep and remarkable in coloration, shape and/or behavior); show aquarium (for fishes shown in public aquaria but which are normally too large or too difficult to keep in home aquaria). This is followed by a field that indicates whether the demand of the aquarium market is met by either breeding the fish (e.g., guppies) or taking them from the wild (e.g., most marine species).

Game: A yes/no field that indicates whether the species is included in the list of World Record Game Fishes, published annually by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA, Pompano Beach, Florida, USA), or reported as a game fish in other sources.

FishBase contains all fishes that are dangerous to humans

Dangerous fish: Indicates whether the species is dangerous to humans, with the following choices: harmless; poisonous to eat (where the liver, intestines or skin naturally contain poisonous substances); causing ciguatera poisoning (where toxins are accumulated in the fish through the food web); venomous (fishes which have spines or mucus containing venom); traumatogenic (fishes that could possibly injure with a bite, sting or puncture); and ‘other’ (including electrogenic fishes, capable of delivering a painful electric shock). If a fish has been reported as ciguatoxic in FishBase, double-clicking on the field indicating this will lead to the CIGUATERA table (this vol.).

Many fishes can generate electric fields

Electrobiology: The entries in this field deal with a phenomenon which has fascinated naturalists for centuries: the ability of many species of freshwater and marine fishes to generate electric fields and stun their preys, or unsuspecting humans.

These electric fields, which may be extremely strong, are used for various purposes, such as orientation, defense, predation and others, some not fully explored. The publication of P. Moller’s comprehensive book on Electric Fishes (1995) has provided an opportunity for covering this ancient, but still very active area of research through a single field, based on the classification presented in that work. The electric ‘status’ of a fish is thus captured by one of the four following choices, arranged in evolutionary sequence:

  1. No special ability: this option implies a ‘normal’ (i.e., extremely weak) electrogenic activity for the nerves and muscles of the species in question. This status (default) is the one from which the other three have been repeatedly and independently derived in various groups of fishes;

  2. Electrosensing only: this ability, widespread in, but not limited to elasmobranchs (sharks, rays, chimaeras), implies organs capable of detecting the weak electric fields generated by other animals, e.g., potential preys;

  3. Weakly discharging: the ability to generate a relatively weak electric field, used mainly for orientation when visibility is low, and for prey detection. (Note that this option implies an electrosensing ability as well);

  4. Strongly discharging: the ability to generate strong electric fields, and to stun potential preys and predators. This ability implies electrosensing as well, except in stargazers, family Uranoscopidae.

The references for this field consist mainly of Moller’s book, or of one of its authored chapters, these sources jointly representing the most comprehensive and up-to-date review of this topic. The Remarks field may contain additional information, attributed to its original source(s), as identified by FishBase staff, or as cited in Moller (1995). Another recent source is Mago-Leccia (1994).

Remarks: A text field for additional remarks on the habitat, behavior, food, breeding, electrobiology and other pertinent information about the species.

Other Information

From the species window, other information on the species is easily obtained with the click of a button. You can get information about the Family and Genus to which the species belongs, Common Names used, the known Range and countries where it occurs, other information with regard to its Biology, References used to obtain the different records and Collaborators who entered or provided information. Please refer to the different chapters for specific discussions of the different tables.

How to get there

Click the Species button in the FishBase Main Menu. You can then search for a species by scientific name, common name, family, country, quick identification, or topic. A list is generated according to the search and by double-clicking on a scientific name, you enter the SPECIES window of that particular species.

Access to the FishBase Book for this section is possible by clicking on the About button. The Glossary button is used to find definitions of terms and the Print button for printing species information.


Most of the information described in this chapter is available in the ‘Species Summary’ page in FishBase on the Internet.


We thank FishBase staff Susan M. Luna, for her previous contributions to the SPECIES table and to this chapter.


Daget, J., J.-P. Gosse, G.G. Teugels and D.F.E. Thys van den Audenaerde, Editors. 1984. Checklist of the freshwater fishes of Africa (CLOFFA). Off. Rech. Scient. Tech. Outre-Mer, Paris, and Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren. 410 p.

Daget, J., J.C. Hureau, C. Karrer, A. Post and L. Saldanha, Editors. 1990. Check-list of the fishes of the eastern tropical Atlantic (CLOFETA). Junta Nacional de Investigaçao Cientifica e Tecnológica, Lisbon, Europ. Ichthyol. Union, Paris and UNESCO, Paris. 519 p.

Eschmeyer, W.N., Editor. 1998. Catalog of fishes. Special Publication, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco. 3 vols. 2905 p.

FAO. 1995. FAO yearbook: Fishery statistics – Catches and landings 1993. Vol. 76. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 687 p.

FAO-FIDI. 1994. International Standard Statistical Classification of Aquatic Animals and Plants (ISSCAAP). Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Service, Fisheries Department, FAO, Rome, Italy.

Holthus, P.F. and J.E. Maragos. 1995. Marine ecosystem classification for the tropical island Pacific, p. 239-278. In J.E. Maragos, M.N.A. Peterson, L.G. Eldredge, J.E. Bardach and H.F. Takeuchi (eds.) Marine and coastal biodiversity in the tropical island Pacific region. Vol. 1. Species Management and Information Management Priorities. East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii. 424 p.

Kottelat, M., A.J. Whitten, S.N. Kartikasari and S. Wirjoatmodjo. 1993. Freshwater fishes of Western Indonesia and Sulawesi = Ikan air tawar Indonesia Bagian Barat dan Sulawesi. Periplus Editions, Hong Kong. 293 p.

Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae secundum Classes, Ordinus, Genera, Species cum Characteribus, Differentiis Synonymis, Locis. 10th ed., Vol. 1. Holmiae Salvii. 824 p.

Mago-Leccia, F. 1994. Electric fishes of the continental waters of America. Fundacion para el Desarrollo de las Ciencias Fisicas, Matematicas y Naturales (FUDECI), Biblioteca de la Academia de Ciencias Fisicas. Matematicas y Naturales, Caracas, Vol. XXIX . 206 p. + 13 tables.

Moller, P. 1995. Electric fishes: history and behavior. Chapman and Hall, London. 584 p.

Myers, R.F. 1999. Micronesian reef fishes. Coral Graphics, Barrigada, Guam. 216 p.

Nielsen, J.G., D.M. Cohen, D.F. Markle and C.R. Robins. 1999. Ophidiiform fishes of the world (Order Ophidiiformes). An annotated and illustrated catalogue of pearlfishes, cusk-eels, brotulas and other ophidiiform fishes known to date. FAO Fish. Synop. 125(18). 178 p.

Pietsch, T.W. and D.B. Grobecker. 1987. Frogfishes of the world. Stanford University Press, Stanford. 420 p.

Randall, J.E. 2000. Revision of the Indo-Pacific labrid fishes of the genus Stethojulis, with descriptions of two new species. Indo-Pac. Fish. 31:42 p.

Shao, K.-T., S.-C. Shen, T.-S. Chiu and C.-S. Tzeng. 1992. Distribution and database of fishes in Taiwan, p. 173-206. In C.-Y. Peng (ed.) Collections of research studies on ‘Survey of Taiwan biological resources and information management’. Vol. 2. Institute of Botany, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.

Smith, M.M. and P.C. Heemstra, Editors. 1995. Revised edition of Smith’s sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. 1047 p.

Smith-Vaniz, W.F., B.B. Collette and B.E. Luckhurst. 1999. Fishes of Bermuda: history, zoogeography, annotated checklist, and identification keys. ASIH Spec. Publ. No. 4. 424 p.

Rainer Froese, Emily Capuli, Cristina Garilao and Daniel Pauly