Nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri Castelnau 1878

Other Names: Breakfast-fish, Humphead, Incubator Fish, Incubator-fish, Nursery Fish

A Nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri, from the Adelaide River, Northern Territory, with a parasitic isopod on the dorsal fin. Source: Dave Wilson / Aquagreen. License: All rights reserved


An unusual deep-bodied compressed fish found in muddy waters in the lower reaches of rivers and mangrove areas. Males carry the egg clusters on a prominent hook on the forehead.

Video of Nurseryfish in an aquarium.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2016, Kurtus gulliveri in Fishes of Australia, accessed 18 May 2022,

Nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri Castelnau 1878

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Larger coastal rivers in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Timor Sea drainages, with a patchy distribution in the following river: Pentecost (Western Australia), East Baines, Daly, Finnis, Adelaide, Wildman, West, South and East Alligator (Northern Territory), Leichhardt, Saxby and Norman (Queensland). The species is also widespread in southern New Guinea.
Inhabits slow-moving, turbid waters, often in the brackish lower reaches of large rivers, and amongst coastal mangroves. Nurseryfish occur in the estuarine and freshwater reaches of rivers, in salinities <0.5–36‰.


Dorsal fin VII, 11-15; Anal fin II, 40-48; Pectoral fin 16-21; Pelvic fin  I, 5.

Body highly compressed, deep anteriorly, depth 1.8-2.7 in SL, long and slender posteriorly. Head with prominent hump on forehead; males with distinctive hook-like process on forehead for carrying eggs. Eye small, 4.8-12.5 in head length. Mouth oblique, protractile, reaching level of eye in young, past eye in large adults; bony knob at mandibular sympysis; very fine villiform bands of teeth on outside of both jaws. Gill rakers long and slender. Anus just behind pelvic fins.

Scales tiny, cycloid, covering body and on preopercle and opercle; head otherwise naked. Lateral line short, reaching to about middle of pectoral fin, poorly developed.

Dorsal fin continuous, with short base, anterior spines very short. Anal fin with elongate base, low, rays of rather uniform length, originating in advance of dorsal fin close to pelvic fin base. Pectoral fins long, 3.1-5.9 in SL. Pelvic-fin base forward of pectoral fins. Caudal fin strongly forked.


Reaches a length of more than 60 cm.


Adults with violet hue, grading to rosy pink on middle of body and brassy yellow anteriorly on dorsolateral surface, silvery with greenish blue highlights anteriorly; fins clear to yellowish. Juveniles whitish or semi-transparent.


Carnivore - feeds on small fishes, shrimp, and crayfish.


Breeding reportedly occurs in both marine and freshwater. Mature males have a hooked process on the forehead that is used to carry a grape-like cluster of relatively large eggs. The eggs are attached to a twisted cord of egg membranes and looped through the end of the male’s forehead hook, where they remain until the larvae hatch.


Reportedly good eating.


  • IUCN Red List : Least Concern
  • Species Citation

    Kurtus gulliveri Castelnau, 1878, Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. (1)2(3): 233. Type locality: Pond near Norman River, Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia.


    Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2016


    Australian Faunal Directory

    Nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri Castelnau 1878


    Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia.  Neptune, New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications 240 pp. pls 1–63.

    Allen, G.R. 1991. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of New Guinea. Christensen Research Institute, Madang, Papua New Guniea.

    Allen, G.R. 2001. Kurtidae. p. 3610 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 6 pp. 3381–4218.

    Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia.  Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

    Allen, G. R., Storey, A.W. & Yarrao, M. 2008. Freshwater fishes of the Fly River Papua New Guinea. vii + 1-213, pls.

    Axelrod, H.R., Burgess, W.E., Pronek, N. & Walls, J.G. 1991. Dr. Axelrod's Atlas of freshwater aquarium fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey.

    Berra, T.M. 2003. Nurseyfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae), from northern Australia: redescription, distribution, egg mass and comparison with K. indicus from southeast Asia. Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 14(4): 295–306.

    Berra, T.M. & Aday, D.D. 2004. Otolith description and age-and-growth of Kurtus gulliveri from northern Australia. J. Fish Biol. 65: 354-362.

    Berra, T.M., B. Gomelsky, B.A. Thompson & D. Wedd. 2007. Reproductive anatomy, gonad development and spawning seasonality of nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae). Aust. J. Zool. 55: 211-217.

    Berra, T.M. & Humphrey, J.D. 2002. Gross anatomy and histology of the hook and skin of forehead brooding male nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri, from northern Australia. Environmental Biology of Fishes 65: 263–270.

    Berra, T.M. & Neira, F.J. 2003. Early life history of the nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae, from northern Australia. Copeia 2003(2): 384–390. Abstract

    Berra, T.M. & Wedd, D. 2001. Alimentary canal anatomy and the diet of the nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae), from the Northern Territory of Australia. The Beagle, Records of the Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 17: 21–25.  

    Berra TM, Wedd D, He Y. 2016. Larval nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes : Kurtidae), in the Adelaide River of the Northern Territory: their season, fellow travellers and unusual rib anatomy. Australian Journal of Zoology 64(4): 262-266 Abstract

    Carpenter, K.E., T.M. Berra & J.M. Humphries Jr. 2004. Swim bladder and posterior lateral line nerve of the nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae). Journal of Morphology 260(2): 193–200. Abstract

    Carpenter, K.E., T.M. Berra & J.M. Humphries Jr. 2005. Kurtus gulliveri (On-line), Digital Morphology. Accessed June 5, 2013 at

    Castelnau, F.L. de (1878). Australian fishes, new or little known species.Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. (1)2(3): 225–248 pls 1–2

    Crook, D.A., Wedd, D. & Berra, T.M. 2015. Analysis of otolith 87Sr/86Sr to elucidate salinity histories of nurseryfish Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes:Kurtidae) in a tropical lowland river in northern Australia. Freshwater Science 34: 609–619. DOI: 10.1086/681022 Abstract

    Eisemberg, C.C. & Berra, T.M. 2016. Fish species sold in the Kikori market, Papua New Guinea, with reference to the nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae). Fishes of Sahul 30(1): 942–949.

    Ezaz, T., Berra, T.M. & Graves, J.A.M. 2007. Karyotype of the Australian Nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Kurtidae: Perciformes). Chromosome Science 9: 85–88.

    Fraser, T.H. 2013. A new genus of cardinalfish (Apogonidae: Percomorpha), redescription of Archamia and resemblances and relationships with Kurtus (Kurtidae: Percomorpha). Zootaxa 3714(1): 001–063.

    Grant, E.M. 1965. Guide to fishes. Department of Harbours and Marine, Queensland. 280 pp.  

    He, Y., Berra, T.M. & Wedd, D. 2016. A microtomographic osteology of the supraoccipital hook of Nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae). Copeia 2016 104(4): 897-906. doi: Abstract

    Jenkins, A., Kullander, F.F. & Tan, H.H. 2009. Kurtus gulliveri. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T169365A6612450. Downloaded on 13 November 2016.

    Lake, J.S. 1978. Australian Freshwater Fishes.  Melbourne : Thomas Nelson 160 pp. 140 figs.

    Larson, H.K. & Martin, K.C. 1990. Freshwater Fishes of the Northern Territory. Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences Handbook Series Number 1.  Darwin : Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences 102 pp. 73 figs.

    Larson, H.K., Williams, R.S. & Hammer, M.P. 2013. An annotated checklist of the fishes of the Northern Territory, Australia. Zootaxa 3696(1): 1-293.

    Merrick, J.R. & Schmida, G.E. 1984. Australian Freshwater Fishes Biology and Management.  Sydney : J.R. Merrick 409 pp.

    Pusey, B.J., Kennard, M.J., Larson, H.K., Alsop, Q., Hammer, M. & Buckle, D.J. (2015). Estuarine fishes of the South Alligator River, Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 67(12): 1797–1812. Abstract

    Roberts, T.R. 1978. An ichthyological survey of the Fly River in Papua New Guinea with descriptions of new species. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 281: 1-72.

    Sommer, J.A., Li, C., Brozek, J., Bessert, M.L., Ortí, G. & Berra, T.M. 2011. Low genetic diversity in Nurseryfish, Kurtus gulliveri (Perciformes: Kurtidae), and an appraisal of its breeding system using microsatellite loci. The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 27: 179–188.

    Unmack, P. J. 2001. Biogeography of Australian freshwater fishes. Journal of Biogeography 28: 1053-1089.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37436001

    Biology:Males brood eggs on forehead

    Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

    Habitat:Turbid rivers and brackish estuaries

    Max Size:63 cm TL

    Species Image Gallery

    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map