Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory



<I>Ranzania laevis</I>, original drawing from first description

Ranzania laevis, original drawing from first description


Regional Maps

External Links

CAAB: 37470000


Head-fishes, Molas, Ocean Sunfishes, Sunfishes

Compiler and date details

3 September 2020 - Dianne J. Bray, Douglass F. Hoese & Matthew M. Lockett

23 May 2012 - Dianne J. Bray & Douglass F. Hoese


Members of the Molidae, or ocean sunfishes, normally occur in offshore seas, where they are circumglobal in tropical and temperate waters. Most records of these extraordinary fish are based on specimens washed up on beaches. Currently, three genera and generally six species are recognised, with three genera and five species in Australia (Glover 1994; Bray 2008, Sawai et al. 2018). Some workers (see Nelosn 2006, Nelson et al. 2016), however, recognise only two or three genera and four species in the family. One species has recently been described (Nyegaard et al 2018). .

Sunfishes are distinctive in lacking a true caudal fin and having fused teeth. Johnson & Britz (2005) showed that the caudal fin was lost, replaced by modified dorsal and anal fins. Some species are large, reaching a size of 3.3 m.

The family was reviewed by Fraser-Brunner (1951) and relationships of the family were treated by Winterbottom (1974), Tyler (1980), Santini & Tyler (2002) and Yanamoue et al. (2004).


General References

Bray, D.J. 2008. Family Molidae. pp. 858-861 in Gomon, M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Fraser-Brunner, A. 1951. The ocean sunfishes (family Molidae). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Historical Series 1(6): 89-121 figs 1-18

Glover, C.J.M. 1994. Family Molidae. pp. 915-920, figs 808-810 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs.

Johnson, G.D. & Britz, R. 2005. Leis' conundrum: Homology of the clavus of the ocean sunfishes. 2. Ontogeny of the median fins and axial skeleton of Ranzania laevis (Teleostei, Tetraodontiformes, Molidae). Journal of Morphology 266(1): 11-21

Nelson, J.S. 2006. Fishes of the World. Hoboken, New Jersey : John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 601 pp.

Nyegaard, M., Sawai, E., Gemmel, N., Gillum, J., Loneragan, N.R., Yamanoue, Y. & Stewart, A.L. 2018. Hiding in broad daylight: molecular and morphological data reveal a new ocean sunfish species (Tetraodontiformes: Molidae) that has eluded recognition. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 182: 631-658

Pennant, T. 1776. British Zoology. London : Chester Vol. 3 425 pp. 73 pls. [pl. 19]

Santini, F. & Tyler, J.C. 2002. Phylogeny of the ocean sunfishes (Molidae, Tetraodontiformes), a highly derived group of teleost fishes. Italian Journal of Zoology 69: 37-43

Sawai, E., Yamanoue, Y., Nyegaard, M. & Sakai, Y. 2018. Redescription of the bump‑head sunfish Mola alexandrini (Ranzani 1839), senior synonym of Mola ramsayi (Giglioli 1883), with designation of a neotype for Mola mola (Linnaeus 1758) (Tetraodontiformes: Molidae). Ichthyological Research 65: 142-160

Tyler, J.C. 1980. Osteology, phylogeny, and higher classification of the fishes of the order Plectognathi (Tetraodontiformes). National Marine Fisheries Service (U.S.). Technical Report 434: 1-422 figs 1-326

Winterbottom, R. 1974. The familial phylogeny of the Tetraodontiformes (Acanthopterygii : Pisces) as evidenced by their comparative myology. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 155: 1-102 figs 1-185

Yanamoue, Y., Miya, M., Matsuura, K., Katoh, M., Sakai, H. & Nishida, M. 2004. Mitochondrial genomes and phylogeny of the ocean sunfishes (Tetraodontiformes: Molidae). Ichthyological Research 51(3): 269-273 fig. 1


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
11-Sep-2020 MOLIDAE 03-Sep-2020 MODIFIED Dr Doug Hoese (AM) Dr Matthew Lockett (ABRS)
12-Feb-2010 (import)