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A sunfish (or mola) is any fish in the Mola genus (family Molidae). The fishes develop their truncated, bullet-like shape because the back fin, which they are born with, 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 are the heaviest of all the bony fish, with large specimens reaching 14 feet (4.3 m) vertically and 10 feet (3.0 m) horizontally and weighing nearly 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg). Sharks and rays can be heavier, but they're 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 so infested with skin parasites, they will often invite small fish or even birds to feast them. Sunfish will even breach the surface up to 10 feet (3.0 m) in the air, in an attempt to shake 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.
- Mola chelonopsis (Ichishima and Kimura, 2009)
- Mola mola (Linnaeus, 1758) (Ocean sunfish)
- Mola ramsayi (Giglioli, 1883) (Southern sunfish)
- Sepkoski, Jack (2002). "A compendium of fossil marine animal genera". Bulletins of American Paleontology 364: 560. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2012). Species of Mola in FishBase. October 2012 version.
- Ichishima, H. & Kimura, M. (2009). A new species of Haborophocoena, an Early Pliocene phocoenid cetacean from Hokkaido, Japan. Marine Mammal Science 25(4):855-874
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