Common name: Bonefishes



Long slender silvery schooling fishes found in coastal waters worldwide. Bonefishes are small to medium-sized with a long, fusiform, slightly compressed body and a deeply forked tail fin. The head is cone-shaped with a pointed snout overhanging the small mouth; mouth not reaching beyond eye.

Dorsal and anal fins short-based, without fin spines; dorsal fin at mid body, anal fin positioned well behind dorsal fin; pectoral fins low on body, pelvic fins abdominal, under posterior part of dorsal fin. Scales smooth, moderate in size; lateral line straight.

Like tarpons, ladyfishes and true eels, the primitive bonefishes have a leptocephalus larval stage, although unlike true eels, bonefish larvae have forked tails. Bonefish can breathe air using a modified swim bladder.

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Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Bonefishes, ALBULIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 13 Jul 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

The Bonefish family Albulidae comprises two genera with up to 10 species. A single genus Albula, and two species are known from Australian waters. Albula vulpes, once thought to be very widespread, is considered by Colburn et al (2001) to be a species complex, with A. vulpes found only in the Atlantic Ocean. The species are often difficult to distinguish.

Family Distribution

Widespread in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide. Bonefishes usually inhabit coastal marine and estuarine environments, including intertidal flats, mangroves, bays, channels, river mouths and deeper adjacent waters.

Family Description

Meristic features: Dorsal fin 16-21; anal fin 79.

Bonefish have a long, slender, cylindrical body, with a somewhat convex upper profile and a conical snout protruding well beyond the upper jaw.

The single short-based dorsal fin lacks fin spines and the anterior rays are relatively high, giving the fin a triangular appearance. The caudal fin is deeply forked, with the upper lobe slightly larger than the lower.

The upper jaw and tongue have specialised granular tooth plates; pharyngeal teeth are present in the throat.

Scales smooth, moderate in size; lateral line straight.

Family Size

To 1.1 m.

Family Colour

Bonefish are counter-shaded, being blue-greenish above, and silvery below. Some species have prominent dark longitudinal streaks between the scales rows along the upper body. Juveniles have a series of dark crossbands on their backs. These bands extend nearly to the lateral line, with the third band crossing at the origin of the dorsal fin.

Family Feeding

Carnivores. Bonefishes swim in schools and fan out over intertidal sandflats, mudflats and seagrass beds at high tide to search for prey. They use their conical snouts to search for crustaceans, molluscs, polychaete worms and fishes in the sediment. They have powerful pharyngeal teeth in the throat to crush and grind up hard-shelled prey items.

Family Reproduction

Bonefishes spawn at sea and have a pelagic leptocephalus larval stage, an early life-history strategy shared with the related tarpons and true eels. The leptocephali have ribbon-like bodies, a small head and a well-forked caudal fin, and are thought to remain in the plankton between two and six months. The leptocephali of some species have been described.

Family Commercial

Although bonefish are highly prized sports fish, they are incredibly bony (as their name inplies) and are considered very poor eating in Australia.

Family Conservation

IUCN: Not evaluated.

Family Remarks

The bonefish fossil record dates back to the middle Mocene.


Dianne J. Bray

Family Resources

Atlas of Living Australia

Australian Faunal Directory

CAAB Codes for Australian Aquatic Biota

Catalog of Fishes  

OZCAM – Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums


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