Mola (fish)

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Temporal range: Late Miocene to Recent[1]
Mola mola
CITES Appendix II (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Tetraodontiformes
Family: Molidae
Genus: Mola
Kölreuter, 1766

A sunfish, also called a mola, is any fish in the genus Mola (family Molidae). The fish develop their truncated, bullet-like shape because the back fin, which is present at birth, never grows. Instead, it folds into itself as the creature matures, creating a rounded rudder called a clavus. Mola in Latin means "millstone" and describes the ocean sunfish's somewhat circular shape. They are a silvery color and have a rough skin texture.

The mola is the heaviest of all the bony fish, with large specimens reaching 14 ft (4.3 m) vertically and 10 ft (3.0 m) horizontally, and weighing over 6,000 lb (2,700 kg).[3] Sharks and rays can be heavier, but they are cartilaginous fish.

Mola are found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world. They are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface and are often mistaken for sharks when their huge dorsal fins emerge above the water. Their teeth are fused into a beak-like structure, and they are unable to fully close their relatively small mouths.

Ocean sunfish can become infested with skin parasites, so they will often invite small fish or even birds to feast on them. Sunfish will even breach the surface up to 10 ft (3.0 m) in the air, in an attempt to shake off the parasites.

They are clumsy swimmers, waggling their large dorsal and anal fins to move, and steering with their clavus. Their food of choice is jellyfish, though they will eat small fish and huge amounts of zooplankton and algae, as well. They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers.

Their population is considered vulnerable,[4] as they frequently are snagged in drift gill nets and can suffocate on sea trash, like plastic bags (which resemble jellyfish, their main food source).


There are currently 3 recognized species in this genus:[5][6]


  1. ^ Sepkoski, J. (2002). "A compendium of fossil marine animal genera". Bulletins of American Paleontology. 364: 560. Archived from the original on 2011-12-07.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "National Geographic". National Geographic. Retrieved 2023-01-13.
  5. ^ Matsuura, K (2014). "Taxonomy and systematics of tetraodontiform fishes: a review focusing primarily on progress in the period from 1980 to 2014". Ichthyological Research. 62 (1): 72–113. doi:10.1007/s10228-014-0444-5.
  6. ^ Nyegaard, Marianne; Sawai, Etsuro; Gemmell, Neil; Gillum, Joanne; Loneragan, Neil R.; Yamanoue, Yusuke; Stewart, Andrew L. (19 July 2017). "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 (3): 631–658. doi:10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx040.