Whiskered Prowfish, Neopataecus waterhousii (Castelnau 1872)

A Whiskered Prowfish, Neopataecus waterhousii, in Samson Bay, Rottnest Island, Western Australia - depth 15 m. Source: Steve Dreezer. License: All rights reserved


A striking scorpionfish relative with an extremely compressed wedge-shaped body and a long-based dorsal fin extending from the front of the head to a very narrow elongated tail base. The common name refers to the small fringe-like warty bumps or papillae in the chin.

Whiskered Prowfish resemble encrusting algae or sponges, varying in colour from grey to olive-brown, orange or a deep red, with a network of lines, spots, blotches or reticulations. 

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2020, Neopataecus waterhousii in Fishes of Australia, accessed 22 Jun 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/Home/species/2173

Whiskered Prowfish, Neopataecus waterhousii (Castelnau 1872)

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Endemic to southern Australia, from about Inverloch, Victoria, and King Island, Tasmania, to the Houtman Abrolhos, Western Australia, at depths to 40 m.

Inhabits sheltered reefs among sponges, macroalgae and seagrasses. Individuals have occasionally been seen sheltering in floating algae.


Dorsal fin XIX-XXIII, 7-10; Anal fin V-VII, 3-5; Caudal fin 9; Pectoral fin 8; Lateral-line pores 10-19 (minute, indistinct).

Body elongate, very compressed, deep anteriorly (32-38% SL), tapering to a very shallow and elongate caudal peduncle. Head large (30-34% SL) with snout angled slightly forward; eyes of small to moderate in size (8-15% HL), positioned high on head; mouth prominent, oblique (upper jaw length 38-41% HL); teeth minute with a band in each jaw; opercle with two low oblique ridges dorsally; head lacking sharp spines.

Scales absent, occasionally with few poorly developed warty protuberences on body, underside of head with small, slender fringe like papillae; lateral line faint, angled from upper end of each gill opening to upper surface of caudal peduncle.

Segmented fin rays unbranched. Dorsal fin single tall, long based, with spines and rays of rather uniform length, first spine very short, second longest, originating in front of eyes, connected by membrane to caudal peduncle but not caudal fin. Anal fin moderately long, low, posterior rays progressively longer. Caudal fin notably elongate, pointed, with lower rays longer than upper rays. Pectoral fins large, positioned low on body, reaching beyond anus, with prominent notches in posterior margin. Pelvic fins absent.


To a standard length of 19 cm, and a total length of 22 cm.


The Whiskered Prowfish is extremely well-camouflaged and highly variable in colour. Individuals may be greyish to brownish with a network of fine reddish lines or pinkish blotches to resemble encrusting algae. Others are orange to a deep red with whitish blotches and resemble encrusting sponges.


Ambush predator.


Little is known of the biology of the Whiskered Prowfish. Individuals are slow-moving and regularly shed their skin to prevent the growth of fouling organisms such as algae and bryozoa.


Although of no interest to fisheries, individuals have been found in crayfish pots.

Similar Species

The similar Red Indian Fish, Pataecus fronto, differs in having the dorsal fin connected to the tail (vs. a distinctly narrow tail base in N. waterhousii, with the dorsal fin completely separate from the tail). As suggested by the 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 species is named for Frederick Waterhouse, the first curator at the South Australian Museum.

Species Citation

Pataecus waterhousii Castelnau 1872, Proc. Zool. Acclim. Soc. Vict. 1: 244. Type locality: Gulf St Vincent, South Australia.


Bray, D.J. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Whiskered Prowfish, Neopataecus waterhousii (Castelnau 1872)


Castelnau, F.L. de 1872. Contribution to the ichthyology of Australia. 2. Note on some South Australian fishes. Proceedings of the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria 1: 243-248.

Edgar, G.J. 2008. Australian Marine Life: the plants and animals of temperate waters. Sydney : Reed New Holland 2nd edn, 624 pp.

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

Hoschke, A., Whisson, G. & Moore, G.I. 2019. Complete list of fishes from Rottnest Island. pp. 150-161 in Whisson, G. & Hoschke, A. (eds) The Rottnest Island fish book. 2nd ed. Perth : Aqua Research and Monitoring Services.

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. 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. 

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:37292005

Depth:0-40 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:22 cm TL


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