Painted Anglerfish, Antennarius pictus (Shaw & Nodder 1794)

Other Names: Black Angler, Painted Anglerfish, Painted Frogfish

A Painted Anglerfish, Antennarius pictus, at Tweed Heads, northern New South Wales, April 2018. Source: Loren Mariani / License: CC By Attribution-NonCommercial


Highly variable in colour to match their surroundings - including whitish, cream, yellow, orange, pink, red, brown and black, usually with many irregular-shaped spots and often with 'scabby-looking' saddles and patches that enhance the camouflage. The body is also covered in many small inconspicuous knobby warts. 

These ambush predators attract their prey with a long lure tipped with a filamentous 'bait' that resembles a fish or shrimp. 

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson, Antennarius pictus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 01 Oct 2023,

Painted Anglerfish, Antennarius pictus (Shaw & Nodder 1794)

More Info


Known in Australian waters from the Houtman Abrohlos Islands, Western Australia, to Sydney Harbour, New South Wales; also at Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, and the Territory of Ashmore Cartier Islands in the Timor Sea.

Elsewhere, widespread in the tropical Indo-Pacific, from East Africa to Hawaii and French Polynesia, north to southern Japan and south to Australia.

Painted Anglerfish live in a variety of reef and rubble habitats, usually around sponges.


Meristic features: Dorsal-fin spines/rays I+I+I, 12 (rarely 13); Anal-fin rays 7 (rarely 6); Pectoral-fin rays 10 (rarely 9 or 11); Pelvic-fin rays I, 5.

Bony part of illicium with numerous dark crossbands and nearly twice as long as second dorsal spine; esca and elongate, filamentous tuft; 2nd dorsal spine slightly tapered from base, membrane behind second dorsal spine thin, covered with dermal spinules (except along extreme outer margin in small triangular area just behind tip of spine) extending across area between 2nd and 3rd spines reaching to base of 3rd; head and body sometimes partially or fully covered with low, rounded, wart-like swellings without large, darkly pigmented spots.

Scales absent, skin with close-set bifurcated spinules, and numerous inconspicuous knob-like warts.


To 24 cm SL; 30 cm TL


Colour extremely variable, usually matching surroundings, including combinations such as dark blue to black with lemon yellow spots scattered over head, body and fins; light blue band across distal margin of unpaired fins.

Illicium and tips of paired fins white; yellow-green specimens with black spots and patches of pink, orange with red spots; a deep rust-red with whitish pectorals; head, body and fins with numerous, scattered, dark brown to black circular spots of various sizes, mottled with irregularly shaped pink and white patches.

In preservative: light tan, yellow brown, dark brown to black; illicium without banding; up to 12 short, darkly pigmented bars radiating from eye. Lighter colour phases with scattered, dark circular spots of various sizes over entire head, body and fins. Light-coloured saddles on caudal peduncle and shoulder, and scattered patches, particularly on nape of neck, check and pectoral regions. Darker-coloured phases with tips of pectoral rays white; solid black individuals with no conspicuous markings.


Painted Anglerfish are ambush predators and feed mostly on other fishes. They lie motionless, only wriggling the filamentous lure in front of their mouths to attract unsuspecting prey.


The sexes are separate with external fertilization. The eggs are produced in a floating gelatinous mass or 'raft' where they remain embedded until hatching. The larvae spend the first 1 or 2 months in the plankton before settling onto the reef.


Although of no interest to fisheries, Painted Anglerfish are sometimes collected for sale in the aquarium industry.



Juveniles are often black and ornately patterned with many scattered orange or yellow spots and blue fin margins.

Similar Species

Although Antennarius pictus is similar to Antennarius maculatus, it lacks the large warts present on the fins and body of A. maculatus. A. pictus also has smaller and far less conspicuous warts and bumps on its body. The second dorsal spine tapers from the base to the tip while in A. maculatus it is club-shaped. The membrane connecting the 2nd dorsal spine to the head is larger in A. maculatus than in A. pictus, extending from the tip of the 2nd dorsal spine to the base of the 3rd dorsal spine.


Antennarius is from the Latin, antenna, meaning sensory organ, in reference to the modified first dorsal spine.

Species Citation

Lophius pictus Shaw & Nodder 1794, The Naturalist's Miscellany 5: Pl. 176. Type locality: Tahiti, Society Islands [= French Polynesia, South Pacific].


Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson

Painted Anglerfish, Antennarius pictus (Shaw & Nodder 1794)


Allen G.R. (1997) Marine Fishes of tropical Australia and South-east Asia: A field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Western Australia Western Australian Museum 292pp

Allen, G.R. & R. Swainston. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Western Australian Museum. Pp. 201.

Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. In Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia. parts 1-3, pages 1-2178.

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.

Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Gary Allen. Pp. 437.

Michael, S.W. (1998). Reef Fishes Volume 1. A Guide to Their Identification, Behaviour and Captive Care. Microcosm Ltd. Shellbourne, Vermont 624 pp.

Pietsch T.W. (1984). The Genera of Frogfishes (Family Antennariidae). Copeia 1984(1): 27-44.

Pietsch, T.W. & Grobecker, D.B. (1987). Frogfishes of the World: Systematics, Zoogeography, and Behavioural Ecology. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 420 pp.

Randall J.E., Allen G.R. & Steene R. (1997). Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press, Bathurst 2nd Edn 557 pp.

Randall J.E. (2005). Reef and Shore Fishes of the South Pacific. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu. 707pp.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37210020

Biology:'Fishing lure' on head

Depth:1-75 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:24 cm SL, 30 cm TL

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