Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 571–590 | Cite as

A review of the sensory biology of chimaeroid fishes (Chondrichthyes; Holocephali)

  • Thomas J. Lisney


The chimaeroid fishes (Chondrichthyes: Holocephali) are a small, ancient and poorly studied group of cartilaginous fishes that have puzzled and intrigued taxonomists, ichthyologists and evolutionary biologists for over 100 years. Like their close relatives, the elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays), chimaeroids possess an extensive battery of sense organs that allow them to detect information about the external environment in order to find mates, locate food and preferred habitats and avoid predators. In recent years the sensory systems of elasmobranchs have received an up-swell of attention from biologists, which has resulted in a greater understanding of the sensory capabilities and behaviour of these fishes. However, very little recent work has been done on the chimaeroids. The aim of this review is to provide a survey of the existing literature on the major senses (vision, smell, taste, mechanoreception, hearing and electroreception) in chimaeroids, in order to stimulate and identify areas for future research. In chimaeroids information on sensory systems is largely restricted to one or two species (with the exception of some aspects of the visual system) and for some sensory systems essentially nothing is known. Most studies are anatomical in nature and so there is a demand for a greater degree of neurophysiological and behavioural assessment of sensory capability in these fishes. The majority of chimaeroids occupy deep-sea habitats and are becoming increasingly threatened by the expansion of deep-sea fisheries, so an understanding of the sensory biology and behaviour of chimaeroids may be important for the protection and management of these fascinating fishes.


Brain Callorhinchidae Chimaeridae Electroreception Hearing Mechanoreceptive lateral line Olfaction Rhinochimaeridae Smell Vision 



The author was supported by a post-doctoral stipend from the Carl Tryggers Foundation for Scientific Research while writing this review. The comments from two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Animal Ecology, Evolutionary Biology CentreUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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