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 usually occur 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. 2023, Nannoperca australis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 May 2024,

Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis Günther 1861

More Info


Endemic to drainages of the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin, the south-east coast of Victoria, South Australian Gulf region, northern Tasmania, and King and Flinders Islands in Bass Strait. This species has experienced significant range reductions since the European settlement, especially in the Murray-Darling Basin, and populations are severely fragmented. 

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 slow-flowing 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. Southern Pygmy Perch rarely occur in fast-flowing areas.


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.

Individuals become more brightly coloured during the breeding season, with males displaying brighter red and darker black colourations than females. The fin margins, ventral edge of the caudal peduncle, area around the anus, ventral surface between the pectoral fins and the chin become black. Breeding males also have red on top of the eye, an incomplete reddish-orange mid-lateral stripe and dark fins with brilliant reddish tinges. 


Feeds 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 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: listed as Vulnerable on the Advisory list of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria.

Although widespread and locally common in Victorian coastal drainages, the species has declined in overall range and abundance since European settlement. In the Murray Darling Basin, Southern Pygmy Perch are now rare. 

Southern Pygmy Perch were once widespread in the Murray and lower Murrumbidgee catchments of New South Wales, however, the species has now disappeared from most areas in the State.

Threats include habitat degradation - loss of riparian and instream vegetation, increased sedimentation, poor water quality, river regulation reducing permanent floodplain habitats and opportunity for dispersal, drought and flooding. The species is threatened by predation from introduced fishes such as Redfin, Perca fluviatilis, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout and Eastern Gambusia, Gambusia holbrooki, is also a major threat. Common Carp alsp represent a major threat due to habitat degradation and competition. 

Captive breeding programs have been undertaken in NSW and SA.


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. 


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. 2023


Atlas of Living Australia

Southern Pygmy Perch, Nannoperca australis Günther 1861


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

Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of Australia.  Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

Attard, C., Möller, L., Sasaki, M. Hammer, M., Bice, C., Brauer, C., Carvalho, D., Harris, J. & Beheregaray, L. 2016. A novel holistic framework for genetic-based captive-breeding and reintroduction programs. Conservation Biology 5: 1060-1069.

Brauer, C.J. & Beheregaray, L.B. 2020. Recent and rapid anthropogenic habitat fragmentation increases extinction risk for freshwater biodiversity. Evolutionary Applications 13: 2857–2869.

Brauer, C.J., Hammer, M.P. & Beheregaray, L.B. 2016. Riverscape genomics of a threatened fish across a hydroclimatically heterogeneous river basin. Molecular Ecology 25: 5093–5113.

Buckley, S.J., Brauer, C., Unmack, P.J., Hammer, M.P. & Beheregaray, L.B. 2021. The roles of aridification and sea level changes in the diversification and persistence of freshwater fish lineages. Molecular Ecology 30: 4866–4883.

Buckley, S.J., Brauer, C.J., Unmack, P.J., Hammer, M.P. & Beheregaray, L.B. 2-22. Variation in intraspecific demography drives localised concordance but species-wide discordance in response to past climatic change. BMC Ecology and Evolution 22: 35.

Buckley, S.J., Domingos, F.M.C.B., Attard, C.R.M., Brauer, C.J., Sandoval-Castillo, J., Lodge, R., Unmack, P.J. & Beheregaray, L.B. 2018. Phylogenomic history of enigmatic pygmy perches: implications for biogeography, taxonomy and conservation. Royal Society Open Science 5, 172125

Cadwallader, P.L. & Backhouse, G.N. 1983. A Guide to the Freshwater Fish of Victoria.  Melbourne : F.D. Atkinson Government Printer 249 pp.

Chilcott, S. J. & Humphries, P. 1996. Freshwater fish of northeast Tasmania with notes on the dwarf galaxias. Records of the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston 103: 145-149.

Cole, T., Hammer, M., Unmack, P., Teske, P., Brauer, C.J., Adams, M. & Beheregaray, L. 2016. Range-wide fragmentation in a threatened fish associated with post-European settlement modification in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. Conservation Genetics 17(6): 1377-1391‐016‐0868‐8

Cook, B.D., Bunn, S.E. & Hughes, J.M. 2007. Molecular genetic and stable isotope signatures reveal complementary patterns of population connectivity in the regionally vulnerable southern pygmy perch (Nannoperca australis). Biological Conservation 138: 60–72

Günther, A. 1861. On a new genus of Australian freshwater fishes. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1861: 116-117 pl. 19. See ref at BHL

Hammer, M.P., Bice, C.M., Hall, A., Frears, A., Watt, A., Whiterod, N.S., Beheregaray, L.B., Harris, J.O. & Zampatti, B. 2013. Freshwater fish conservation in the face of critical water shortages in the southern Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research 64: 807-821.

Hammer, M.P. & Walker, K.F. 2004. A catalogue of South Australian freshwater fishes, including new records, range extensions and translocations. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 128(2): 85-97.

Humphries, P. 1995. Life history, food and habitat of southern pygmy perch, Nannoperca australis, in the Macquarie River, Tasmania. Marine and Freshwater Research 46: 1159–1169.

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. (described as Microperca tasmaniae).

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

Kuiter, R.H. 2018. Pictorial guide to Victoria's freshwater fishes. Part 1. E-version. Seaford, Victoria : Aquatic Photographics 1-110.

Kuiter, R.H., Humphries, P.A. & Arthington, A.H. 1996. Family Nannopercidae: Pygmy perches. pp.168-175 in McDowall, R.M. (ed.) 1996. Freshwater Fishes of south-eastern Australia. Reed Books, Sydney, New South Wales.

Lintermans M. 2007. Fishes of the Murray Darling Basin: An Introductory Guide. Murray Darling Basin Authority, Canberra.

Llewellyn, L.C. 1974. Spawning, development and distribution of the southern pigmy perch  Nannoperca australis australis Günther from inland waters in eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 25: 121–149.

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. (described as Nannoperca riverinae).

Merrick, J.R. & Schmida, G.E. 1984. Australian Freshwater Fishes Biology and Management. Sydney : J.R. Merrick 409 pp. figs 280 col.

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.

Morgan, D.L., Beatty, S.J. & Adams, M. 2013. Nannoperca pygmaea, a new species of pygmy perch (Teleostei: Percichthyidae). Zootaxa 3637(4): 401-411.

Morrongiello, J.R. 2011. Life History Variation along environmental gradients in a freshwater fish, the Southern Pygmy Perch Nannoperca australis. PhD thesis, School of Biological Sciences, 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.

Pearce, L., Bice, C., Whiterod, N. & Raadik, T. 2019. Nannoperca australis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T123358579A123382811. Downloaded on 19 June 2020.

Prosdocimi, F., de Carvalho, D.C., de Almeida, R.N. & Beheregaray, L.B. 2012. Molecular Biology Reports 39(3): 2767-2772. s11033-011-1034-5

Raadik, T.A. 1992. Distribution of freshwater fishes in east Gippsland, Victoria, 1967-1991. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 104: 1-22.

Tonkin, Z., King, A.J. & Mahoney, J. 2008. Effects of flooding on recruitment and dispersal of the southern pygmy perch (Nannoperca australis) at a Murray River floodplain wetland. Ecological Management & Restoration 9: 196–201.

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

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

Whitley, G.P. 1929. R.M. Johnston's memoranda relating to the fishes of Tasmania. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 1928: 44–68 pls 2–4 (as Microperca tasmaniae)  

Woodward, G.M.A. 2005. Factors influencing the distribution and abundance of Nannoperca obscura (Yarra pygmy perch) and Nannoperca australis (Southern pygmy perch). PhD thesis, LaTrobe University, Melbourne.  

Woodward, G.M.A. & Malone, B.S. 2002. Patterns of abundance and habitat use by Nannoperca obscura (Yarra pygmy perch) and Nannoperca australis (southern pygmy perch). Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 114: 61–72. 

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37311218

Conservation:IUCN Near Threatened

Fishing:Aquarium fish


Max Size:10 cm TL


Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map