Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis Günther 1861

Other Names: Southern Pigmy Perch, Tasmanian Pigmy Perch
Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis, from Darby River, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria

Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis, from Darby River, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, October 2011. Source: David Paul / Museums Victoria. License: CC by Attribution


A small freshwater fish found in south-eastern Australia, with a deeply notched long-based dorsal fin, a small mouth, and a squarish to slightly rounded tail. Southern Pygmy Perch have a non-serrated preorbital bone and a round pupil. Breeding males develop brilliant red fins.

Southern Pygmy Perch are usually found amongst aquatic vegetation in a wide range of environments. The species has a patchy distribution due population declines in recent years - especially in New South Wales.

Video: research on Southern Pygmy Perch in New South Wales.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2019, Nannoperca australis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 05 Apr 2020,

Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis Günther 1861

More Info


Endemic to temperate waters of the Murray-Murrumbidgee River system from about Brinagagee, New South Wales, through Victoria to Ewens Ponds, South Australia. The Southern Pygmy Perch also occurs in Tasmania in northwards draining rivers, and on King and Flinders Islands in Bass Strait.

Historically in New South Wales, Southern Pygmy Perch were widespread throughout the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers systems. The species is now restricted to only three areas, including Blakney Creek, in the Lachlan River catchment northeast of Yass.

Southern Pygmy Perch inhabit a wide range of well-vegetated aquatic environments. These include still or gently flowing streams, lakes, billabongs, drains, dams, swamps and ephemeral creeks and wetlands, where they tend to be found around the vegetated margins.


Dorsal fin VII-IX, 7-10; Anal fin III, 7-8; Pectoral fin 11-14 (usually 12-13).

Body oblong, moderately compressed; dorsal profile curved, ventral profile somewhat flattened; head large, dorsal profile slightly convex, snout rounded; eye of moderate size, dorso-lateral; mouth terminal, slightly oblique, protractile, of moderate size; jaw reach back past front, almost to middle of eye; jaws and palatines with narrow bands of villiform teeth, vomer with a large patch; preorbital bone rounded, with smooth edge; numerous distinct pores on mandible, preopercular margin, snout, upper surface of head and above operculum; operculum with two flat spines.

Scales large ctenoid; scales absent from interorbital space, opercula, cheeks, snout and lower jaw; lateral line present, consisting of irregular series of pored scales.

Single dorsal fin consisting of anterior spiny section and posterior soft section separated by deep notch; anal fin opposite and similar to soft part of dorsal fin; pectoral fins small, rounded, low on sides; ventral fins small, pointed, positioned well forward on abdomen; caudal fin large, rounded.


To 10 cm TL, 8.5 cm SL, commonly to 6 cm SL


Body brownish-green, darker dorsally, paler below, with dark scale margins; dark brown-black spots form two indistinct, horizontal bands along body, one above, one below lateral line; lower band continuing through eye.

Breeding males have red on top of the eye, an incomplete reddish-orange mid-lateral stripe and dark fins with brilliant reddish tinges.


Carnivores - feeding on a range of small aquatic crustaceans, insects and insect larvae.


The sexes are separate and fertilisation is external. Southern Pygmy Perch reach sexual maturity in their first year, when males grow to lengths of about 30 mm and females about 33 mm. Spawning occurs from late winter to early spring when water temperatures rise above 16 degs C. 

During the breeding season, males defend a small territory. Following courtship, females spawn batches of eggs amongst aquatic vegetation or over the substrate within the male's territory. Each female can produce up 4000 small, transparent, spherical, non-adhesive eggs that measure about 1.25 mm in diameter.

The larvae hatch at 3-4 mm TL after 2-4 days following fertilisation. 

Morrongiello et al. (2012) found that Southern Pygmy Perch populations inhabiting increasingly harsh streams produced more numerous and smaller eggs. They also found that within-female egg size variability increased as environments became more unpredictable.


New South Wales: Listed as Endangered under the Fisheries Management Act 1994.

South Australia: Protected under the SA Fisheries Act 2007

Victoria: Vulnerable on the Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria.

Although Southern Pygmy Perch were once widespread in the Murray and lower Murrumbidgee catchments of New South Wales, the species has now disappeared from most areas in the State. Such population declines may be attributed to habitat loss and destruction, along with competition from introduced fishes such as Redfin, Perca fluviatilis. and Eastern Gambusia, Gambusia holbrooki.

NSW DPI is undertaking a captive breeding program for Southern Pygmy Perch at Narrandera.


Recent genetic studies have revealed that Nannoperca australis comprises two cryptic species - an eastern coastal species and a species occurring the Murray Darling Basin and western coastal streams.

Similar Species

Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis differ from Yarra Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca obscura, in having a larger mouth reaching to below the eye, non-serrated preorbital bone and in having a round pupil rather than one which is notched. Fins of breeding males are bright red (compared to black in N. obscura).

Southern Pygmy Perch differ from Variegated Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca variegata, in having scales on top of the head, and the second dorsal-fin spine longer than the third spine. 


Nannoperca  meaning "dwarf perch" is from the Latin nannus (small), and the Greek perke (perch). The specific name australis means "southern" in reference to the distribution of this species.

Species Citation

Nannoperca australis Günther 1861,  Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 1861: 116. Type locality: Murray River, Australia.


Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2019


Australian Faunal Directory

Catalog of Fishes

Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis Günther 1861


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Johnston, R.M. 1888. Notes with respect to the fresh water fishes, and the land and fresh water molluscs of King's Island. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 1887: 74-76. (P. 74, as Microperca tasmaniae).

Klunzinger, C.B. 1872. Zur Fische-fauna von Süd Australien. Archiv für Naturgeschichte 38(1): 17-47 pl. 2 (p. 21, as Paradules leetus).

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Macleay, W.J. 1881. Descriptive catalogue of the fishes of Australia. Part 1. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 5(3): 302-444. (P. 342, as Nannoperca riverinae).

McCulloch, A.R. 1929. A check-list of the fishes recorded from Australia. Part II. Memoirs of the Australian Museum 5: 145–329. ( P. 157, as Nannoperca tasmaniae)

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Mitchell, P.A. 1976. A study of the behaviour and breeding biology of the Southern Pigmy Perch Nannoperca australis australis (Günther) (Teleostei, Nannopercidae). BSc.(Hons) Honours, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.

Morrongiello, J.R. 2011. Life History Variation along Environmental Gradients in a Freshwater Fish, the Southern Pygmy Perch Nannoperca australis. PhD thesis, Monash University, Melbourne.

Morrongiello, J.R., Bond, N.R., Crook, D.A. & Wong, B.B.M. 2010. Nuptial coloration varies with ambient light environment in a freshwater fish. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23: 2718-2725.

Morrongiello, J.R., Bond, N.R., Crook, D.A. & Wong, B.B.M. 2012. Spatial variation in egg size and egg number reflects trade-offs and bet-hedging in a freshwater fish. Journal of Animal Ecology 81: 806-817.

Pearce, L. 2014. Conservation management of southern pygmy perch (Nannoperca australis) in NSW, in the context of climactic extremes and alien species. MSc Thesis, Charles Sturt University, 169 pp.

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Unmack, P.J., Hammer, M.P., Adams, M. & Dowling, T.E. 2011. Phylogenetic analysis of pygmy perches (Teleostei: Percichthyidae) with an assessment of the major historical influences on aquatic biogeography in southern Australia. Systematic Biology 60(6): 797–812

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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37323001

Conservation:NSW Endangered: SA Protected


Max Size:10 cm TL


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CAAB distribution map