Chondrichthyes vs. Osteichthyes

What's the Difference?

Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes are two major classes of fish. Chondrichthyes, also known as cartilaginous fish, have skeletons made of cartilage instead of bone. They include sharks, rays, and skates. On the other hand, Osteichthyes, or bony fish, have skeletons made of bone. This class includes the majority of fish species, such as trout, salmon, and goldfish. While both classes have gills for respiration, Chondrichthyes have five to seven pairs of gill slits, while Osteichthyes typically have four pairs. Additionally, Chondrichthyes have placoid scales, which are small, tooth-like structures, while Osteichthyes have cycloid or ctenoid scales, which are thin and overlapping. Overall, these two classes of fish have distinct skeletal structures and scale types, making them easily distinguishable from each other.


GillsExposedProtected by operculum
Swim bladderAbsentPresent
ReproductionMostly internal fertilizationExternal fertilization
Body shapeStreamlinedVaries (round, elongated, etc.)
TeethMultiple rows, continuously replacedSingle row, continuously replaced
Scale typePlacoidGanoid, cycloid, ctenoid
Number of speciesApproximately 1,000Over 30,000

Further Detail


Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes are two major classes of fish that exhibit distinct characteristics and adaptations. Chondrichthyes, commonly known as cartilaginous fish, include sharks, rays, and skates, while Osteichthyes, also known as bony fish, encompass the majority of fish species. Despite both being fish, these two classes differ significantly in their anatomical features, reproductive strategies, and ecological roles.

Anatomical Differences

One of the primary distinctions between Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes lies in their skeletal structure. Chondrichthyes possess a cartilaginous skeleton, which provides flexibility and reduces body weight. In contrast, Osteichthyes have a bony skeleton composed of calcium phosphate, offering greater support and protection. This difference in skeletal composition affects their overall body shape and swimming abilities. Cartilaginous fish tend to have a streamlined body, allowing them to move swiftly through the water, while bony fish often exhibit a more diverse range of body shapes.

Furthermore, Chondrichthyes possess placoid scales, which are small, tooth-like structures embedded in their skin. These scales reduce drag and enhance swimming efficiency. On the other hand, Osteichthyes have cycloid or ctenoid scales, which are thin and overlapping, providing protection against predators and reducing water resistance.

Reproductive Strategies

Reproduction strategies also differ between Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes. Chondrichthyes are predominantly oviparous, meaning they lay eggs externally. These eggs are often enclosed in a protective case, commonly known as a mermaid's purse. Some species, such as sharks, exhibit internal fertilization, where males transfer sperm into the female's body through specialized structures called claspers. This internal fertilization allows for greater control over reproduction and increases the chances of successful fertilization.

In contrast, Osteichthyes exhibit a wide range of reproductive strategies. Many species are oviparous, laying eggs that are fertilized externally. These eggs are often left unattended, relying on environmental conditions for successful development. Some bony fish, such as seahorses, exhibit male pregnancy, where males carry and give birth to live young. This unique reproductive strategy is absent in Chondrichthyes.

Ecological Roles

Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes play distinct ecological roles within aquatic ecosystems. Chondrichthyes, particularly sharks, are apex predators, occupying the top of the food chain. They help regulate populations of prey species, maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. Sharks also play a crucial role in controlling the health of coral reefs by preying on herbivorous fish, preventing overgrazing of algae.

Osteichthyes, on the other hand, exhibit a wide range of ecological roles. They can be herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores, occupying various trophic levels within the food web. Bony fish are essential for nutrient cycling, as they consume organic matter and release nutrients through excretion. Additionally, some species of Osteichthyes, such as anglerfish, have developed unique adaptations to attract prey, using bioluminescent lures to lure unsuspecting organisms.

Sensory Systems

Both Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes possess well-developed sensory systems, allowing them to navigate their environment and locate prey. However, there are notable differences in their sensory adaptations. Chondrichthyes have a highly developed electroreception system, known as the ampullae of Lorenzini, which enables them to detect weak electrical fields produced by other organisms. This adaptation is particularly useful for locating prey and navigating in dark or murky waters.

Osteichthyes, on the other hand, rely more heavily on their visual and olfactory senses. Many bony fish have excellent eyesight, allowing them to detect movement and distinguish colors underwater. They also possess a highly developed sense of smell, which helps them locate food sources and identify potential mates.


In conclusion, Chondrichthyes and Osteichthyes exhibit distinct attributes and adaptations that have allowed them to thrive in diverse aquatic environments. While Chondrichthyes possess a cartilaginous skeleton, placoid scales, and a unique electroreception system, Osteichthyes have a bony skeleton, cycloid or ctenoid scales, and rely more on visual and olfactory senses. Reproductive strategies and ecological roles also differ between the two classes. Understanding these differences enhances our appreciation for the incredible diversity and complexity of the fish world.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.