Fringe-eye Flathead, Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus (Günther 1860)

Other Names: Black-freckled Flathead, Blotched Flathead, Fringe-eyed Flathead, Northern Rock Flathead, Rock Flathead, Sammy Dong

A Fringe-eye Flathead, Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus, at Exmouth, Western Australia. Source: Bill & Mark Bell / Flickr. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

A mottled greyish-brown flathead with 7-8 dusky bands across the back and sides, fins mottled with light and dark patches, dorsal and caudal rays with short dark streaks or diagonal lines, 6-9 dermal flaps above each eye, a broad dark band below the eye, and large branched iris lappets.

Cite this page as:
Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO & Bray, D.J. 2020, Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 Jun 2024,

Fringe-eye Flathead, Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus (Günther 1860)

More Info


Shark Bay (Western Australia) around the tropical north to Swansea (New South Wales); also Christmas Island in the eastern Indian Ocean. Elsewhere the species occurs in the east-Indo-west-central Pacific.

Inhabits sand patches around rocky, weedy and mangrove areas at depths to about 60 m, mostly shallower than 10 m.


Dorsal fin I + VII-VIII, 11-12; Anal fin 11; Caudal fin (branched rays) 11-12; Pectoral fin 19-21. Pelvic fin I, 5; Gill rakers (first arch) 1 + 4-6 + 5-7; Lateral line scales (pored) 53-54.

Body elongate, slightly depressed. Head large (length 34-37% SL), moderately depressed; bony ridges smooth anteriorly, with a few small spines posteriorly, suborbital ridge with one small spine below posterior of eye; supraorbital ridge with 4 or 5 low spines posteriorly; no preorbital spines; a single preocular spine present; lower edge bicarinate; eyes large (17-21% HL), iris lappet cirrose; usually 6-9 dermal papillae on upper eye, longest branched and extending well above supraorbital ridge; nasal spines usually present; a deep, prominent pit behind upper eye; mouth large, extending to or just behind level of anterior margin of eye; teeth very small, pointed, in two separate, longitudinal patches on vomer, in a narrow band on each palantine, no greatly enlarged canines; usually 3 preopercular spines at angle of preopercle, two upper ones short and subequal, third very small; interopercular margin with several, variably-sized flaps.

Scales small, finely ctenoid (cycloid ventrally), covering body and most of head; lateral line scales similar to adjacent scales on side, 57-70 oblique rows of scales above lateral line, anterior 1-6 (usually 2 or 3) scales with a weak spine, single pored.

First dorsal fin spinous with short base, first spine very short, 2nd and 3rd spines longest. Second dorsal fin with moderately long base, all rays branched, lower than first dorsal spines. Anal fin similar in shape, commencing just posterior to second dorsal-fin origin, rays lower than second dorsal-fin rays. Caudal fin slightly rounded. Pectoral fins short and rounded. Pelvic fins long, based below centre of pectoral fins, not reaching anal-fin origin, inner ray unbranched.


Maximum length at least 58 cm TL, commonly to 30 cm TL.


Greyish green to brownish or blackish above, whitish below, with 6-7 distinct dark cross bands, broad dark bar below eye; lower lip with 4 dark bands. Fins mottled with dark and pale blotches, dorsal and caudal rays with short dark streaks.


Presumably primarily piscivorous, also preys on large benthic crustaceans.


Commonly caught in trawls.

Similar Species

Differs from the similar Cymbacephalus parilus in having distinct ocular flaps and two or one suborbital spines (vs. ocular flaps or suborbital spines absent in C. parilis), and in having a shorter snout (26.0–29.8% HL in C. nematophthalmus, vs. 29.0–31.7% HL in C. parilis). The two species also differ in coloration.


The specific name is from the Greek nemato- (= thread) and ophthalmos (= eye), presumably in reference to the thread-like ocular flaps of this species.

Species Citation

Platycephalus nematophthalmus Günther, 1860, Cat. Fishes 2: 184. Type locality: Victoria River and Port Essington, Northern Territory, Australia.


Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO & Bray, D.J. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Fringe-eye Flathead, Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus (Günther 1860)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls. (as Papilloculiceps nematophthalmus)

Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp.

Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A field guide for anglers and divers. Perth, WA : Western Australian Museum vi 201 pp., 70 pls.

Castelnau, F.L. de 1875. Researches on the fishes of Australia. Intercolonial Exhibition Essays. 2. pp. 1–52 in, Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 : Official Record. Melbourne. (described as Cymbacephalus stiageriSee ref online

Grant, E.M. 1975. Guide to Fishes. Brisbane : Queensland Government, Co-ordinator General’s Department 640 pp.

Grant, E.M. 2002. Guide to Fishes. Redcliffe : EM Grant Pty Ltd 880 pp.

Günther, A. 1860. Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum. Catalogue of the acanthopterygian fishes in the collection of the British Museum. Squamipinnes, Cirrhitidae, Triglidae, Trachinidae, Sciaenidae, Polynemidae, Sphyraenidae, Trichiuridae, Scombridae, Carangidae, Xiphiidae. London : British Museum Vol. 2 548 pp. See ref at BHL

Imamura, H. 1996. Phylogeny of the family Platycephalidae and related taxa (Pisces: Scorpaeniformes). Species Diversity 1(2): 123-233.

Imamura, H. 2020. Synonymy of Cymbacephalus staigeri (Castelnau 1875) and Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus (Günther 1860), and validity of Cymbacephalus parilis (McCulloch 1914) (Scorpaeniformes: Platycephalidae). Ichthyological Research: 7 pp.

Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43(2): 709-762

Keenan, C.P. 1991. Phylogeny of Australian species of flatheads (Teleostei, Platycephalidae) as determined by allozyme electrophoresis. Journal of Fish Biology 39 (Supplement A): 237-249.

Knapp, L.W. 1999. Family Platycepalidae. pp. 2385-2421 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 4 2069-2790 pp.

Larson, H.K. & Williams, R.S. 1997. Darwin Harbour fishes: a survey and annotated checklist. pp. 339-380 in Hanley, H.R., Caswell, G., Megirian, D. & Larson, H.K. (eds). The Marine Flora and Fauna of Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory, Australia. Proceedings of the Sixth International Marine Biology Workshop. Darwin : Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory 466 pp. (as Papilloculiceps nematophthalmus)

McCulloch, A.R. (1914) Report on some fishes obtained by the F. I. S. "Endeavour" on the coasts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South and South-western Australia. Part II. Biol. Results "Endeavour" 2(3): 77-165. (as Insidiator nematophthalmus)

Ramm, D.C., Pender, P.J., Willing, R.S. & Buckworth, R.C. 1990. Large-scale spatial patterns of abundance within the assemblage of fish caught by prawn trawlers in Northern Australian waters. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 41(1): 79-95.

Sainsbury, K.J., Kailola, P.J. & Leyland, G.G. 1985. Continental Shelf Fishes of Northern and North-Western Australia. Canberra : Fisheries Information Service 375 pp. figs & pls.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37296023

Behaviour:Reef associated, sand, weed, mangrove areas

Danger:Venomous spines

Depth:0-50 m

Max Size:58 cm TL

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map