Common name: Flatheads


Flatheads are bottom-dwelling marine predators with long bodies and large flattened heads with bony ridges bearing sharp spines and serrations. They have a spinous dorsal fin followed closely by a soft dorsal fin. Like their scorpionfish relatives, flatheads have venomous spines.

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PLATYCEPHALIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 12 Jul 2020,

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Family Taxonomy

The family Platycephalidae comprises about 70 species 18 genera, and all but two species occur in the Indo-Pacific region. The taxonomy of the family is confused and in need of revision. In Australian waters, 51 species in 15 genera are recognised.

Family Distribution

Widespread, mostly in the Indo Pacific, also occurring westward to the Red Sea and southern Africa. Flatheads are benthic fishes, commonly occurring on muddy or sandy bottoms from estuaries to about 300m depth on the upper continental slope. The family contains a number of widespread species, as well as localised endemics, further investigation is required to ascertain the status of species complexes and potentially cryptic taxa.

Family Description

Body elongate; head moderately to strongly depressed; bony ridges of head frequently bearing sharp spines and serrations; body mostly bearing ctenoid scales, cycloid scales often present ventrally; pelvic fins behind pectoral base; mouth large; lower jaw extending beyond upper when mouth closed. Ocular and interopercular flaps variably developed; eye partly directed upward. Teeth on jaws, vomer and palatines generally caniniform; some species with stout canines. First dorsal fin with VI-X spines; first spine short, isolated or poorly connected to second spine; second dorsal fin with 10-15 soft rays, lacking spines; anal fin lacking spines.

Family Size

Maximum size greatly variable, from about 10 cm to 120 cm.

Family Colour

Well-camouflaged ambush predators, with colour patterns to match their surroundings and often remain buried or partially buried in the sand or muddy substrates.

Family Feeding

Feed mainly on small fish and crustaceans. Generally ambush predators, will bury in mud with only eyes and upper parts of head exposed, some species are also active foragers.

Family Reproduction

Knowledge of the life history and reproduction of flathead varies greatly. Species targeted by commercial and recreational fishers are generally well studied, whereas little is known of many non-target species. A number of commercially important species are known to spawn over the warmer months, with mature animals of some species moving to shallow water prior to spawning.

Family Commercial

In Australia, flatheads are the most commonly caught finfish group taken by recreational anglers. A number of species are regarded as excellent eating and are targeted by commercial fishers, with several species being important commercially. They are commonly caught by line, gillnet and trawl.


Eschmeyer, W.N. (2008) The Catalogue of Fishes on-line. (California Academy of Sciences: San Francisco) Available from: (12 June, 2008).

Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & Allen, G.R. (2006) Fishes. In: P.L. Beesley & A. Wells (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia Volume 35. Parts 1-3. Australian Biological Resources Study and CSIRO Publishing, 2248 pp.

Kailola, P.J., Williams, M.J., Stewart, P.C., Reichelt, R.E., McNee, A. & Grieve, C. (eds) (1993) Australian fisheries resources. Bureau of Resource Sciences, Australia & Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. 422 p.

Knapp, L.W. (1999) Family Platycephalidae, flatheads, pp. 2385-2421. In: K.E. Carpenter & V.H. Niem (eds). FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes. The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. Volume 4: Bony Fishes Part 2 (Mugilidae to Carangidae). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

Nelson, J.S. (2006). Fishes of the World. 4th Ed. John Wiley & Sons, New York, N.Y.