Pelvic fins absent; skin loose and scaleless; eyes reduced or rudimentary; three or four gills; no photophores present, but luminous organ often present around anus and dorsal and anal fin bases; pleural ribs absent; vertebrae 38-59. Live color brown or orange with brilliant orange or red jaws and fins. Maximum length 39 cm, attained in a species of Gyrinomimus.
Members of this family are second only to the anglerfish family Oneirodidae in being the most species-rich family in the bathypelagic zone (1,000 m-4,000 m) and may be the most abundant one below 1,800 m (Paxton, 1989). Only recently have males been found in this group; they are small, the five known ones are 3-5 cm and previously had been classified as immature juveniles.
Nine genera, Cetichthys, Cetomimus, Cetostoma, Danacetichthys, Ditropichthys, Gyrinomimus, Notocetichthys, Procetichthys, and Rhamphocetichthys, with about 20 species (15 more undescribed), most known from only a few specimens (e.g., Paxton, 1989, 2003). The monotypic Procetichthys, with a large nasal organ and the eye with a lens in specimens over 10 cm (vs. small nasal organ and eye without lens in specimens over 10 cm) is placed in one subfamily and the other eight genera in another.
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