Macolor Macularis, the Oldest Fish in the World

30 April, 2021
Among the many classifications that can be found when it comes to designating animals, the oldest fish may not be the best known. Macolor macularis takes the prize in this category.

In 2016, Macolor macularis, the oldest fish in the world, was found on the western coast of Australia. In this catch, a significant number of fish were caught, of which several were over 60 years old.

Could you tell which fish the Macolor macularis species corresponds to? Do we eat it? Is it of scientific interest? If you want to answer these and other questions about this fish, don’t miss what comes next.

Why is Macolor macularis the oldest fish?

At present, scientists are investigating the growth and maximum ages of the aquatic inhabitants of the latitudinal zones. Their objective is to detect and expand its knowledge regarding coral reef fish and the effect of humans on their habitat – and the biodiversity that inhabits them.

In 2016, Australian researchers discovered the existence of two of the oldest fish on record today. Specifically, the oldest one belongs to the Macolor macularis species and at that time it was estimated to be around 81 years old. It wasn’t the only one, as they also found a 79-year-old sea bass (Lutjanus bohar).

When estimating their age, the reefs these species inhabit, usually with very long life cycles, were used as a reference. Regarding their location, both fish were found in the Indian Sea, in the northwestern part of Australia. The two belonged to tropical species not exploited by man.

Ultimately, the study concluded that these species had far exceeded their life expectancy. This may be due to the following factors:
  • Low mortality rates: These species typically have a high life expectancy.
  • Low production potential.
  • Effective systems applied by the authorities: the fact that an animal lives for a long time indicates that it is of no interest to fishermen, or that the authorities protect it with laws.
A macolor macularius on a reef.

Behavior and curiosities

Macolor macularis is not only an interesting fish because of its classification as the oldest fish. In fact, this species has many other qualities, both physical and physiological. Here are some curious facts about this fish.

1. It was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century

Macolor macularis was discovered in 1931 in waters belonging to the South China Sea and also in Japanese waters. After its discovery, this species was included in the order of the Perciformes, known as the largest group of vertebrates, with about 40% of the species recorded in this huge taxon.

2. The genus Macolor is made up of two species

At the time of its discovery, M. macularis was ascribed to two different species, Macolor macularis and Macolor niger. However, later, differences were found between them, based on different aspects that these species showed, such as the following:

  • Number of gills: M. macularis has a greater number of gills, between 110-122, while M. niger has between 87 and 107 gills.
  • Anal fin and lateral line: experts know how to differentiate between both species based on their anal fin and lateral line.
  • Dorsal fin: slightly toothed in M. niger and deeply toothed in M. macularis.
  • Pelvic fin: while in M. niger it’s rounded and short, this doesn’t occur in M. macularis, where it’s pointed and long, approaching its anal fin.
  • Color pattern: one way to differentiate them is by observing the shades of its head. In M. macularis, a yellowish-brown hue with round blue spots is detected, and M. niger has a black-brown color with a cross-linked pattern of bluish lines.
  • Common name: The species Macolor macularis is commonly known as the “midnight snapper” and M. niger is called the “black and white snapper”.

3. Its distribution extends

Both species are part of the Lutjanidae family, which includes 109 species of snappers, divided into 17 different genera. In terms of distribution – like some species of the family – they are located in Oceania. Specifically, from the Ryukyu Islands, to Australia and the Melanesia sub-region.

4. The oldest fish is also nocturnal

As with other animals, fish can be classified as diurnal, twilight, or nocturnal. This division is carried out according to their peaks of activity and rest. Thus, the fish will be diurnal if it sleeps during the night, nocturnal if it sleeps during the day and twilight if it becomes active after dark.

5. It’s a popular dish

Like many other members of its family, Macolor macularis is commonly found in markets. Normally, people want the product to be as fresh as possible, as this determines its subsequent flavor.

6. Its state of conservation is of little concern

According to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the midnight snapper is among the animals of “least concern”. This implies that it isn’t currently in danger, but we can’t lower our guard, and nor should we negatively influence the species’ habitat.

One fish cleans the mouth of another.

We can conclude that Macolor macularis isn’t only the oldest fish in the world, but also has many other characteristics. Among them, this species stands out for being a marine fish that lives in Oceania that’s an important nutritional resource for the people of the area.

  • Unprecedented longevity of unharvested shallow-water snappers in the Indian Ocean. Springer. Accedido el 23 de abril de 2021 en:
  • Midnight Snapper Macolor macularis (Perciformes: Lutjanidae) – a new record snapper from Indian waters. Marine Biodiversity Records.  Accedido el 23 de abril de 2021 en:ç
  • The pelagic Larva of the Midnight Snapper, Macolor macularis (Teleostei: Lutjanidae). Australian Museum. Accedido el 23 de abril de 2021 en: