Atlantic Wolffish | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Atlantic Wolffish

Anarhichus lupus

Also known as

Striped wolffish, seawolf, seacat, ocean catfish

Distribution

Cold temperate to subpolar north Atlantic Ocean

Écosystèmes/habitats

Rocky reefs and hard bottoms

Feeding Habits

Aggressive predator

Conservation Status

Special concern/data deficient

Taxonomie

Order Cottiformes (sculpins & relatives); Family Anarhichadidae (wolffishes)

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With even just a brief glance, you can quickly figure out how the Atlantic wolffish was named. their large, canine-like teeth protrude from their mouths, giving them a wolf-like scowl. Behind these visible primary canine teeth are a cluster of five or six smaller canines, as well as three sets of crushing teeth on the roof of their mouths, used to grindhard-shelled prey. In spite of their slightly ferocious appearance and large teeth, Atlantic wolffish are not aggressive. They feed on slow-moving or sedentary prey such as sea urchins, crabs, molluscs and large snails. Atlantic wolffish are also incredibly well-adapted for cold water conditions, able to survive in water below 0°C, thanks to high concentrations of an antifreeze compound in their blood.

Atlantic wolffish become sexually mature in the northwest Atlantic at around eight to 10 years of age. They will form bonded pairs during the spring and summer and mate via internal fertilization in the fall. Females will reproduce multiple times through their lifetime, laying between 5,000 and 12,000 eggs. The number of eggs a female is able to lay increases with her size, which is why it is vitally important that large females remain in the environment to ensure population sizes are healthy. Eggs are laid in a cluster on boulders and in rocky crevices, where they will be guarded by the parental male until they hatch. Males that are guarding eggs will stop feeding and become more aggressive in their duties as a protector. Once hatched, the rather large larvae float around in the upper layers of the water column before settling to the ocean floor as juveniles. They settle into a sedentary lifestyle as they mature, setting up home in crevices on rocky reefs, only really venturing out for food or to find a mate during the spawning season. Atlantic wolffish can live to be around 20 years old.