Red Indian Fish, Pataecus fronto Richardson 1844

Other Names: Red Foreheadfish, Red Indianfish

A Red Indian Fish, Pataecus fronto, at Bare Island, Botany Bay, New South Wales. Source: John Turnbull (Marine Explorer) / Flickr. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

A spectacular scorpionfish relative with a very compressed body, no pelvic fins, and a long-based dorsal fin that arises on top of the head. This master of camouflage usually lives amongst sponges and varies in colour from a pale pinkish-orange to scarlet, brick red or bright orange - sometimes with indistinct spots.

Video of a Red Indian Fish at Bare Island, Sydney, Australia.
Video of a Red Indian Fish swaying with the swell.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2020, Pataecus fronto in Fishes of Australia, accessed 17 Jun 2024,

Red Indian Fish, Pataecus fronto Richardson 1844

More Info


Endemic to the southern half of Australia, from Maroochydore, southern Queensland, to Barragga Bay, southern New South Wales, and from the Gulf St Vincent, South Australia, to Shark Bay, Western Australia. The species is not often seen in South Australia, where it may occur on deeper reefs.

Inhabits sponge gardens on coastal reefs and estuaries at depths to 80 m. Individuals are more active at night.


Dorsal fin XXII-XXV, 14-17; Anal fin IX-XI, 4-7; Caudal fin 10; Pectoral fin 8; Lateral-line pores 14-27 (indistinct, minute).
Body elongate, extremely compressed, deep anteriorly (32-46% SL), tapering to very shallow caudal peduncle. Head large (30-35% SL); profile of snout vertical; eyes of small to moderate in size (10-16% HL), positioned high on head; mouth prominent (upper jaw length 27-36% HL), oblique; teeth minute, band in each jaw; each opercle with two low oblique ridges dorsally; head lacking sharp spines. 

Scales absent, skin mostly smooth; lateral line faint, angled from upper end of each gill opening to upper surface of caudal peduncle.

Segmented fin rays unbranched. Single high, long based dorsal fin originating in front of eyes, anterior spines except for short first spine long, those posteriorly somewhat shorter, of similar length to one another, continuous with caudal fin, connected by membrane to basal two thirds of uppermost caudal fin ray; anal fin of moderate length, low, posterior rays slightly longer; caudal fin rounded and somewhat elongate ventrally. Pectoral fins large, positioned low on body, extending beyond anus, with notches in posterior margin. Pelvic fins absent.


Colour extremely variable from brown with a network of thin red lines and white spots, overall reddish to orange with white blotches, or brownish with pink blotches.


Ambush predator - feeds mostly shrimps and other on crustaceans.


Little is known of the biology of this species. Red Indian Fish are well-camouflaged ambush predators and usually resemble sponges. Their sedentary life style enables bryozoa and algae to grow on their skin. While the growth of encrusting organisms may enhance their camouflage, they are known to shed their skin to rid themselves of such growths. 


When out in the open, these well-camouflaged ambush predators usually resemble leaves swaying back and forth in the surge. Red Indian Fish 

Similar Species

Differs from the similar Whiskered Prowfish, Neopataecus waterhousii, in having the dorsal fin connected to the tail (vs. a long narrow caudal peduncle in N. waterhousii, with the dorsal fin completely separate from the tail). As suggested by its common name, the Whiskered Prowfish also has distinctive 'whiskers', or fringe-like warty bumps or papillae in the chin (vs. much smaller papillae on the chin in the Red Indian Fish).


The specific name fronto is from Latin (= brow, fore part) in reference to the tall dorsal fin of this species.

Species Citation

Pataecus fronto Richardson, 1844, Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 1 14(91): 280. Type locality: southern Australia.


Bray, D.J. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Red Indian Fish, Pataecus fronto Richardson 1844


Gomon, M.F. 1994. Family Pataecidae. pp. 509-512 figs 454-456 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs.

G√ľnther, A. 1872. Report on several collections of fishes recently obtained for the British Museum. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1871(3): 652-675 pls 53-70 (described as Pataecus subocellatus) See ref at BHL

Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp.

Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43(2): 709-762.

Johnson, J.W. 2008. Family Pataecidae. pp. 504-505 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3)

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp.

May, J.L. & Maxwell, J.G.H. 1986. Field Guide to Trawl Fish from Temperate Waters of Australia. Hobart : CSIRO Division of Marine Research 492 pp.

Pollard, J. (ed.) 1980. G.P. Whitley's Handbook of Australian Fishes. North Sydney : Jack Pollard Publishing Pty Ltd 629 pp.

Richardson, J. 1844. Generic characters of undescribed Australian fish. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 1 14(91): 280. See ref at BHL

Waite, E.R. 1921. Illustrated catalogue of the fishes of South Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 2(1): 1-208 293 figs pl. 1 See ref at BHL

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37292001

Depth:10-80 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:27 cm TL


Species Maps

CAAB distribution map