Osteichthyes, popularly referred to as the bony fish, is a diverse taxonomic group of fish that have skeletons primarily composed of bone tissue, as opposed to cartilage. The vast majority of fish are members of Osteichthyes, which is an extremely diverse and abundant group consisting of 45 orders, and over 435 families and 28,000 species. It is the largest class of vertebrates in existence today. The group Osteichthyes is divided into the ray-finned fish (Actinopterygii) and lobe-finned fish (Sarcopterygii). The oldest known fossils of bony fish are about 420 million years old, which are also transitional fossils, showing a tooth pattern that is in between the tooth rows of sharks and bony fishes.
Bony fish are characterized by a relatively stable pattern of cranial bones, rooted, medial insertion of mandibular muscle in the lower jaw. The head and pectoral girdles are covered with large dermal bones. The eyeball is supported by a sclerotic ring of four small bones, but this characteristic has been lost or modified in many modern species. The labyrinth in the inner ear contains large otoliths. The braincase, or neurocranium, is frequently divided into anterior and posterior sections divided by a fissure.
Traditionally, Osteichthyes were considered a class, recognised on having a swim bladder, only three pairs of gill arches hidden behind a bony operculum, and a predominately bony skeleton. Under this classification systems, the Osteichthyes were paraphyletic with regard to land vertebrates as the common ancestor of all Osteichthyes includes tetrapods amongst its descendants. While the largest subclass, the Actinopterygii (ray-finned fish) are monophyletic, with the inclusion of the smaller sub-class Sarcopterygii, Osteichthyes was regarded as paraphyletic.
Osteichthyes are primitively ectothermic (cold blooded), meaning that their body temperature is dependent on that of the water. But some of the larger marine osteichthyids, such as the opah, swordfish and tuna have independently evolved various levels of endothermy. Bony fish can be any type of heterotroph: numerous species of omnivore, carnivore, herbivore, filter-feeder or detritivore are documented.
Some bony fish are hermaphrodites, and a number of species exhibit parthenogenesis. Fertilization is usually external, but can be internal. Development is usually oviparous (egg-laying) but can be ovoviviparous, or viviparous. Although there is usually no parental care after birth, before birth parents may scatter, hide, guard or brood eggs, with sea horses being notable in that the males undergo a form of "pregnancy", brooding eggs deposited in a ventral pouch by a female.
The ocean sunfish is the heaviest bony fish in the world, while the longest is the king of herrings, a type of oarfish. Specimens of ocean sunfish have been observed up to 3.3 metres (11 ft) in length and weighing up to 2,303 kilograms (5,077 lb). Other very large bony fish include the Atlantic blue marlin, some specimens of which have been recorded as in excess of 820 kilograms (1,810 lb), the black marlin, some sturgeon species, and the giant and goliath grouper, which both can exceed 300 kilograms (660 lb) in weight. In contrast, Paedocypris progenetica and the stout infantfish can measure less than 8 millimetres (0.31 in). The Beluga sturgeon is the largest species of freshwater bony fish extant today, and Arapaima gigas is among the largest of the freshwater fish. The largest bony fish ever was Leedsichthys, which dwarfed the beluga sturgeon as well as the ocean sunfish, giant grouper and all the other giant bony fishes alive today.