Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

C.C. Lu, National Chung Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan


Opisthoteuthids are small to medium sized with soft, flabby, semi-gelatinous body consistency. The body is often flattened and disc-like, but can be bell shaped when preserved. The mantle opening is a narrow slit and with a short funnel. The eight arms are connected by a single deep web reaching almost to arm tips. The arms are equipped with a single row of suckers and with paired short cirri alternating with the suckers. The paired posterior fins are short.

The family Opisthoteuthidae was erected by Verrill in 1896 for his species Opisthoteuthis agassizii, captured during the Blake Expedition off the West Indies, and published in 1883.

Subsequently, the genus Opisthoteuthis was placed in the family Cirroteuthidae Keferstein 1866 by Chun (1915), Berry (1918), and Sasaki (1929). Robson (1932) accepted Verrill's original designation and this has been followed by Thiele (1935), Voss (1977, 1988a, 1988b) and Nesis (1982). Voss (1988b) listed 26 nominal species in the family including five considered to be nomina dubia. However, the taxonomy of the family, indeed of all cirrate octopods, is very confused.

The first Australian record of Octopoteuthis is Berry's report on the cephalopods taken by the Endeavour Expedition (Berry 1918) of two species new to science: Opisthoteuthis pluto from the Great Australian Bight and O. persephone from the Great Australian Bight and off Genoa Peak, Victoria (37°32'S 149°38'E). Lu & Phillips (1985) extended the distributional records of O. persephone to the waters off New South Wales and Tasmania. No other Australian records of this family have been published.

The cartilaginous shell of the Australian members of the family, Opisthoteuthis pluto and O. persephone are broadly U-shaped. Voss (1988a) reported that when the animal is in a disc-like state, the shell is almost a flattened strap; however, when the animal assumes a horizontal swimming position, i.e. in the bell-shaped form, the shell is strongly curved.

The mantle of Opisthoteuthis is semi-gelatinous with reduced muscle fibres and thick watery cellular matrix. Aldred et al. (1983) suggested that the semi-gelatinous structure of the body of cirrate octopods may contribute to buoyancy through the storage of ammonia ions. Simple tests such as heating pieces of mantle tissue of Opisthoteuthis pluto with KOH solution, to cause release of ammonia, failed to support this hypothesis (Lu 2001).

Roper & Brundage (1972) studied a large series of deep-sea photographs and concluded that three styles of locomotion are employed by octopoteuthids, either singly or concurrently: (1) the jet propulsion type typical of other octopods, (2) the pulsating type produced by opening and closing using the web and arms, and (3) the drogue-like or umbrella phase utilising outstretched web and arms. The pulsating type of locomotion was observed directly by Pereyra (1965) on Opisthoteuthis californiana in a shipboard aquarium.

Opisthoteuthids lack a radula and salivary glands are also absent in the genus Opisthoteuthis. The absence of these structures, however, does not appear to impede carnivory in these octopods. Scott (1910) found crustaceans of many species in the stomach of a Grimpoteuthis species and fragments of polychaetes were found in the stomach of Grimpoteuthis glacialis (Robson 1930). Meyer (1906) reported small crustaceans and small fish, some swallowed whole, in the stomachs of Opisthoteuthis depressa Ijima & Ikeda of Japan.

The mature opisthoteuthid male has enlarged suckers near the base or near the tip of all arms (Sasaki 1929; Nesis 1982). Opisthoteuthid eggs are large: the maximum size of eggs in O. californiana was reported to be 9 x 5 mm (Berry 1952) and 11 x 6 mm for the eggs in oviducts (Pereyra 1965). Ripe ovarian eggs of O. vossi are 9.9 mm in diameter (Sanchez & Guerra 1989).

Young opisthoteuthids are probably planktonic. The smallest planktonic juvenile recorded is a specimen of 15 mm ML (Berry 1912); it has only suckers on the arms, the cirri develop later. Adult opisthoteuthids are bathybenthic, living on the bottom of the sea at depths of 100 m to 2250 m with the main concentration at 100 to 1000 m. The known depth records are 350 m to 1254 m for O. pluto and 396 m to 660 m for O. persephone.

Opisthoteuthids occur in the tropical and temperate seas, from 50°N to 48°S (Voss 1988b, Lu 2001). Voss (1988b) summarised the distributional data of all known species. Opisthoteuthis agassizi occurs in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with more limited distribution in the western Atlantic. Opisthoteuthis californiana occurs in waters off northern California, Washington and Japan. Both O. depressa and O. japonica are known only from Japanese waters. Opisthoteuthis extensa is known from a station south-west of Sumatra and O. medusoides from off Zanzibar. Opisthoteuthis philippi is known from off south-western India.

The Australian opisthoteuthid O. pluto was described from the deep waters of the Great Australian Bight and O. persephone from the Great Australian Bight and Victoria (Berry 1918). Recent collections indicate that O. pluto occurs in the continental slope waters from the Great Barrier Reef region, along the south coast of Australia, including Tasmania to South Tasman Rise and the north-west slope of Western Australia. Octopoteuthis persephone is distributed in the slope waters from New South Wales along the south coast of Australia, including Tasmania to the Great Australian Bight. Both species are known only from Australian waters.



Deep-sea octopods of small to medium size, with semi-gelatinous body consistency. The body is often flattened but when preserved can be bell shaped. The mantle opening is small with a short funnel. The eight arms are connected by a single deep web; there is no secondary web. The arms are equipped with a single row of suckers and with paired short cirri alternating with the suckers. The paired posterior fins are short. The shell is V- or U-shaped.


General References

Aldred, R.G., Nixon, M. & Young, J.Z. 1983. Cirrothauma murrayi Chun, a finned octopod. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 301: 1-54

Berry, S.S. 1912. A review of the cephalopods of western North America. Bulletin of the Bureau of Fisheries (U.S.) 30: 269-336, pl. 32-56

Berry, S.S. 1918. Report on the Cephalopoda obtained by the F.I.S. Endeavour in the Great Australian Bight and other southern Australian localities. Biological Results of the Fishing Experiments carried on by the F.I.S. Endeavour 1909-1914 4: 203-298 pls 59-88

Berry S.S. 1952. The flapjack devilfish, Opisthoteuthis in California. California Fisheries and Game 38: 183-188

Chun, C. 1915. Die Cephalopoden. II. Teil: Myopsida, Octopoda. Jena : Verlag von Gustav Fischer. [English Translation (1975). 436 pp. Roper, C.F.E. & Roper, I.H. (eds). Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translation English Translation (1975). 436 pp. Roper, C.F.E. & Roper, I.H. (eds). Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translation CHECK, 1914 IN TEXT]

Lu, C.C. 2001. Cephalopoda. pp. 129-308 in Wells, A. & Houston, W.W.K. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Vol. 17.2 Mollusca: Aplacophora, Polyplacophora, Scaphopoda, Cephalopoda. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing, Australia xii 353 pp. [Date published 3 July 2001]

Lu, C.C. & Phillips, J.U. 1985. An annotated checklist of Cephalopoda from Australian waters. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Victoria 2: 21-36

Meyer, W. Th. 1906. Die Anatomie von Opisthoteuthis depressa (Ijima and Ikeda). Forest Research 85: 183-269, 6 pls

Nesis, K.N. 1982. Cephalopods of the World. English Translation from Russian. Levitov, B.S. (Transl.), Burgess, L.A. (ed.) (1987) Neptune City : T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 351 pp. [English Translation from Russian]

Pereyra, W.T. 1965. New records and observations on the flapjack devilfish, Opisthoteuthis californiana Berry. Pacific Science 19(4): 427-441

Robson, G.C. 1930. Cephalopoda. I. Octopoda. Discovery Reports 2: 371-402, 2 pls

Robson, G.C. 1932. A Monograph of the Recent Cephalopoda. Pt 2. The Octopoda (excluding the Octopodinae). London : British Museum (Natural History) 359 pp. 6 pls.

Roper, C.F.E. & Brundage, W.L. Jr 1972. Cirrate octopods with associated deep-sea organisms: new biological data based on deep benthic photographs (Cephalopoda). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 121: 1-46

Sanchez, P. & Guerra, A. 1989. A new species of cirrate octopod, Opisthoteuthis vossi, from the southeast Atlantic (Cephalopoda: Octopoda). Bulletin of Marine Science 44: 1159-1165

Sasaki, M. 1929. A monograph of the dibranchiate cephalopods of the Japanese and adjacent waters. Journal of the Faculty of Agriculture, Hokkaido Imperial University 20(Suppl.): 1-357 30 pls

Scott, T. 1910. Notes on Crustacea found in the gizzard of a deep-sea cephalopod. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 8 5: 51-54

Thiele, J. 1935. Handbuch der Systematischen Weichtierkunde. Zweiter Band. Classis Cephalopoda. Stuttgart : Verlages Gustav Fischer pp. 948–995.

Verrill, A.E. 1896. The Opisthoteuthidae. A remarkable new family of deep sea Cephalopoda, with remarks on some points in molluscan morphology. American Journal of Science 2: 74-80

Verrill. A.E. 1883. Supplementary report on the Blake Cephalopoda. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard 11: 105-115

Voss, G.L. 1977. Classification of recent cephalopods. pp. 575-579 in Nixon, M. & Messenger, J.B. (eds). The Biology of Cephalopods. London : Academic Press.

Voss, G.L. 1988a. Evolution and phylogenetic relationships of deep-sea octopods (Cirrata and Incirrata). pp. 253-276 in Clarke, M.R. & Trueman, E.R. (eds). Paleontology and Neontology of Cephalopods. The Mollusca. Vol. 12. San Diego; London : Academic Press.

Voss, G.L. 1988b. The biogeography of the deepsea Octopoda. Malacologia 29: 295-307


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)
12-Feb-2010 (import)