Any animal named after wolves is automatically awesome. Think about it: wolf spiders (terrifying but undeniably fierce), aardwolves (adorable!), and now, the Atlantic wolffish. This fish, as you will see, is one bizarre animal.

A wolffish hanging out in a nice protected rocky nook. Image by Norm Despres (photographer); original uploader was Wapoo at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Atlantic wolffish are found in the Atlantic Ocean, along both the eastern and western coasts. They favour cold waters, and are found as far north as the Davis Strait. They survive in these icy waters thanks to a natural antifreeze in their blood. How cool would it be to have blood that can’t freeze? Maybe I should make a superhero with that power… Wolffish rarely venture father south than Cape Cod, presumably because things are too warm down there. Wolffish are bottom-dwellers, and particularly like rocky areas, where they can hang out in crevices.

If you’re named after a wolf, you have to something fearsome about you. Atlantic wolffish definitely meet this criterion. They can grow to lengths of a meter and a half, and weigh up to 18 kilograms. But their size isn’t even the most intimidating part about wolffish. No, the most terrifying (and most wolfish) thing about Atlantic wolffish is their teeth.

Atlantic wolffish have very strange teeth for fish. First of all, each jaw has up to six huge fangs. Then on the top jaw there’s three rows of teeth specifically designed for crushing. The fish also have some lovely molars, and a number of serrated teeth all over their throat. In summary: wolffish have a crapload of teeth.

A side view of a wolffish’s teeth. Pretty scary stuff. Image by Matthieu Deuté, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So what do wolffish need these ridiculous teeth for? Thankfully they don’t use them to eat people. They don’t even eat other fish, instead using their powerful jaws and rows of teeth to crush the shells of molluscs, crustaceans and echinoderms. Wolffish help control the populations of sea urchins and green crabs, which is important for ecosystem health.

The uniqueness of wolffish isn’t limited to their blood and teeth. Unusually for fish, Atlantic wolffish practice internal fertilization. Males also stick around and help protect the eggs for up to four months. During this time, males are so dedicated to their children that they barely eat. Wolffish have some of the largest fish eggs in the world, at 5.5 to 6 mm in diameter.

Unfortunately wolffish have fallen prey to overfishing, particularly by bottom trawlers that ruin the rocky habitats wolffish love. This isn’t just bad news for the wolffish, but also for the ecosystems they maintain by eating sea urchins and crabs. Lets hope these odd fish get some protection, so we can keep admiring their strangeness.

Cover image by Cephas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit