Atlantic Wolffish – Species Profile & Facts

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If you’ve been in the aquarium trade for a while now and you’re looking for a new experience, look no further than the wolffish.

We’re not talking about the milder breeds like black or red wolffish; these are the tamer versions.

No, we’re going straight feral. Today, we will discuss the Atlantic wolffish, one of the most impressive and unique predators you will ever encounter.

Be ready, though, caring for this ocean monster is anything but easy due to its size, layout requirements, and difficulty of housing.

But we’ll get into all of these aspects shortly.

What is a Wolffish?

The wolffish belongs to the Anarhichadidae family, which are ray-finned fish. These are eel-shaped predators that inhabit oceanic cold waters and can grow to impressive sizes.

Naturally, they’re difficult to keep and grow in captivity due to their enormous bodies and specific environmental requirements, but not impossible.

The Atlantic wolffish is known by many names, including the devil fish or the seawolf, which are both fitting given the fish’s appearance and behavior. The wolffish looks like a mix of a prehistoric fish, a modern eel, and a dragon.

There’s no other way to put it. The fish’s body is athletic and massive, with strong muscles and a bulky head with powerful jaws.

The fish’s forehead is very narrow, with bulbous eyes on both sides. The dorsal fin covers the fish’s entire body and can expand or contract based on the fish’s movements and temperament.

The pectoral fins are short but wide, as the fish uses them to crawl on the substrate. This is what most likely earned its family name in the first place (Anarhichadidae relates to Anarhichas, which means “climber” in Greek; this links to the belief that wolffish could crawl on land.)

But it’s the mouth that delivers the most powerful visual punch. The wolffish has a wide mouth with gruesome frontal upper and lower teeth. The teeth are so long and sharp that they sometimes prevent the fish from closing its mouth completely.

But there’s more than meets the eye. The frontal teeth are just the beginning, as the wolffish also has a set of serrated teeth throughout their mouth and throat.

These are necessary, given that wolffish consume hard-shelled animals that require a lot of force to go through.

Interesting fact: the wolffish loses and regrows its teeth numerous times throughout its lifetime.

Atlantic Wolffish Requirements

If you’ve decided that you need a wolffish in your life, learn that caring for the best is anything but easy.

This animal is large, aggressive, predatorial, and requires a specific layout to thrive, so you have a lot of work ahead of you.

The maintenance part isn’t too difficult, given that the wolffish is an adaptable animal, it’s the preparation that requires the most effort and brainstorming.

So, allow me to assist you with that.

– Tank Size & Setup

The wolffish can reach 6 feet and reach 50 pounds in the wild. This alone should send chills down your spine, and for good reasons.

Captive wolffish won’t get to those sizes, but you shouldn’t underestimate their potential. Prepare a 200-gallon+ tank for your wolffish and take it from there.

You might need to increase the tank’s size if your specimen outgrows its enclosure, which may very well be the case.

You naturally need more space if you plan on creating a community tank. This may sound weird, given that the wolffish ranks as a predator, but we’ll get into that shortly.

Regarding the layout, the wolffish demands a lot of hiding places. Despite its mean looks and ruthless behavior, this is a timid fish that functions as an ambush predator.

It likes tight and dark areas and prefers to live in caves most of its life. Add a variety of rocky structures with large caves that your wolffish can use for hiding and resting.

Some swimming space is necessary too if your wolffish wants to explore its habitat or look for food, but most of the tank space should go to cave building.

– Water Requirements

The water temperature matters the most here and is one factor that can make the wolffish community-incompatible. The ideal water temperature for these monsters falls in the 30-52 F range, which is pretty much close to freezing.

This already eliminates the possibility of housing your wolffish with any tropical fish present on the market today.

– Feeding and Diet

The wolffish is primarily designed to eat hard-shelled animals like clams, starfish, green crabs, cockles, etc.

In the wild, the wolffish is an important control mechanism against urchins and green crabs, which reproduce fast and risk destabilizing the ecosystem.

This is unfortunate news, given that the wolffish’s habitat is changing fast due to human activity, forcing the predator on the edge of extinction.

The fish’s eating habits make it difficult to keep in the tank, as this predator won’t accept any commercial foods that other fish have.

Their large mouths with long, serrated teeth are designed to eviscerate larger prey, and they only eat live foods.

So, you need a good plan of attack and a reliable food source to provide your wolffish with all the sustenance it needs.

Regarding the meal size and frequency, it’s all a game of test and find out. The wolffish grows relatively slowly, and its food requirements change as it grows.

So, observe your fish’s feeding behavior and adapt to its requirements along the way.

Do Wolffish Need a Heater?

Most definitely not. If anything, you should make sure that the fish’s water is cold enough to keep it safe and comfortable.

I recommend getting a thermometer and using ice bags to cool off the water temperature to your wolffish’s comfort zone.

This is especially important if you live in a more tropical region with higher outdoor temperatures.

Keep the tank out of direct sunlight, preferably in a dark and cool room.

Do Wolffish Need a Filter?

Yes, they do. I would say that all fish require a good filtration system, no matter their size, native habitat, or any other factor.

Closed aquatic ecosystems like aquariums are subject to dangerous ammonia buildup due to the water chemicals having nowhere to go.

Ammonia and nitrites are the direct results of decaying organic matter, which includes dead plant matter, fish poop, food leftovers, etc.

The filtration system will balance the ecosystem by diluting ammonia and nitrites and preventing nitrate buildup above the acceptable limit.

Given that you’ll be getting a 200-300-gallon tank, I suggest investing in at least 2 filtration systems.

This is to circumvent the extreme water currents that one larger filter will produce and ensure better filtration results. Regular cleaning is also necessary to keep the fish’s habitat clean and stable over time.

Especially since your wolffish will produce a lot of waste due to its eating behavior. You need to constantly remove food leftovers to prevent excess ammonia and nitrite production.

How Much Do Wolffish Cost?

At best, I can give you a general price range like $150-$300, but this is in no way relevant.

The major problem here is that Atlantic wolffish are very rare in the wild and captivity. They’re even rarer in captivity due to their difficulty of care and special housing conditions and diet.

So, your only chance of getting a genuine Atlantic wolffish is from a professional breeder, of which there aren’t many available.

What is the Lifespan of Wolffish?

A healthy adult wolffish can reach 20 years in the wild, but it’s unclear how long it can live in captivity.

The lifespan of a captive wolffish will definitely be lower, given that the environmental conditions are different. Even providing the fish with all the care in the world and the best diet may not change that.

That’s because wolffish are still mostly feral animals that aren’t too accustomed to life in captivity.

This means they can experience higher stress levels compared to captive-bred fish that have had decades at their disposal to get accustomed to life in captivity.

And prolonged stress is a killer among fish, rendering them vulnerable to health problems and shortening their lifespan considerably.

Most fish generally live 2-3 times longer in their wild habitat than they do in captivity, so expect the same rate for wolffish.

How Big do Wolffish Get?

An Atlantic wolffish can reach 6 feet in the wild and weigh approximately 50 pounds. If this seems like a lot, that’s because it is a lot.

An adult wolffish will most likely make for the biggest tank fish you can get.

If the Atlantic wolffish sounds too large for your aquarium, I suggest going for smaller versions like the red or black wolffish.

These breeds can measure between 8 and 30 inches, respectively, depending on their genetic makeup and environmental conditions.

This makes them easier to care for and less costly in terms of setup, maintenance routine, and food.

Are Wolffish Aggressive?

Oh, yes, they are. Wolffish are pure-bred predators, so they function based on aggression. Aggression is part of their behavior. This being said, they’re not territorial, which may come as a surprise.

Sure, wolffish will protect their personal space, aka their favorite dwelling cave, but they won’t get extra violent if any fish wanders nearby.

It’s also worth noting that wolffish don’t typically eat other fish. They might scare them away if they come too close, but they won’t actively prey on other fish, even smaller species.

That’s because the wolffish has a specialized diet, only eating shelled animals that it can find dwelling near the substrate.

Don’t count on this particularity too much, though. As much as wolffish don’t care about hunting fish, they remain large, unpredictable predators nonetheless.

Sometimes, they will eat other fish, especially if there’s nothing else to eat around.

Wolffish Tank Mates

I recommend staying away from any potential tank mates. For one, wolffish prefer very cold waters, which are unfit for most tank fish. The second problem is that the wolffish will most likely take up the entire space anyway.

This is a monstrous fish that requires a lot of room. Any other tankmate you might add faces the risk of running into the wolffish’s layer one too many times.

And we’ve already discussed why that’s not a good idea, despite the wolffish’s apparent disinterest in other fish.

Are Wolffish Good for Beginners?

If I were to recommend a fish species only fit for veteran tank keepers, it would be the wolffish.

This predator requires careful maintenance and assistance and demands thorough insight into the aquarium trade.

You need experience in tank cycling, maintenance, layout crafting, and overall fish care with dieting, water changes, etc.

This fish is clearly not meant for beginners.

How to Tell if Wolffish is Male or Female?

You can’t. There are no reliable markers to consider when sexing the wolffish.

Body size and shape could be 2 potential markers, as females tend to be slightly smaller and with fuller abdomens, but these are unreliable overall.

The female is also said to showcase a longer and slimmer head, but this is also unverified.

It doesn’t matter much, though, since you won’t be breeding your wolffish anytime soon anyway. Allow me to explain.

How do Wolffish Breed?

They don’t. At least not in captivity. Aside from the challenge of getting a healthy male and female in the same environment and accommodating them properly, you still have to deal with the specific breeding requirements.

Then you need to consider the fish’s breeding particularities which explain why wolffish are on the brink of extinction in the wild.

Here are some quick facts to showcase this exact point:

  • Wolffish only reach sexual maturity by the age of 8-9 (that’s years, by the way)
  • Wolffish are migratory animals, so they need to leave their current habitat towards areas with colder waters for breeding purposes
  • This species practices internal fertilization, which means that the eggs are fertilized while still in the female; the female will incubate them for approximately 4 to 9 months
  • With all these facts in mind, it takes wolffish more than a decade to create one new generation of wolffish

You should also note that the male wolffish is very aggressive and protective of the eggs and the young.

You may even need to relocate the female once the eggs have been laid, which creates an entirely different set of logistical problems.

It’s safe to say that wolffish breeding won’t be one of your concerns if you’re interested in this species.


Now that you’ve read through this detailed article allow me to deliver a much-needed piece of advice: stay away from the Atlantic wolffish.

This breed is very hard to find as it currently ranks as endangered and very difficult to keep.

You’re unlikely to manage an adult Atlantic wolffish properly, especially if you don’t have the experience to back you up.

Go for more approachable breeds instead, like the red, black, or spotted wolffish, which are easier to find and keep.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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