chimaera (kĭmērˈə) [key], cartilaginous marine fish, related to the sharks. Also called ratfishes, chimaeras are found in temperate oceans throughout the world, mostly in deep water. They have large heads, long, thin, ratlike tails, and large, fanlike pectoral fins. In many species there is a poison spine in front of the first dorsal fin. Their slippery skins are black, gray, or silver, often with stripes or spots. The largest reach a length of about 61/2 ft (2 m). Chimaeras resemble sharks in certain fundamental respects: They have cartilage skeletons, males have claspers for internal fertilization of females, and females lay eggs encased in leathery cases. However, they resemble the bony fishes in having the upper jaw fused to the skull, the gill slits opening into a single chamber, a bony covering, or operculum, over the gill slits, and separate anal and urogenital openings. A distinctive feature of chimaeras is the presence of extra claspers in the male, one in front of each pelvic fin and a prominent one on the forehead. The function of these appendages is not known, but they are thought to play a role in courtship. Chimaeras form the subclass Holocephali of the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Chondrichthyes.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology