Northern Rock Flathead, Cymbacephalus papillaris (McCulloch 1914)

Other Names: Black-freckled Flathead, Blotched Flathead

A Black-freckled Flathead, Cymbacephalus staigeri, at Cape Preston, Western Australia, June 2009. Source: Tony Ayling / License: CC By Attribution-NonCommercial


A blackish to brownish flathead becoming whitish below, with 6 or 7 distinct dark bands across the back extending to the lateral line, a series of dark blotches on the lower side and cheek, and a broad dark submarginal band on the first dorsal fin that broadens posteriorly.

In Australia, this species was previously known as Cymbacephalus staigeri (Castelnau 1875).

Cite this page as:
CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research & Bray, D.J. 2020, Cymbacephalus papillaris in Fishes of Australia, accessed 21 May 2022,

Northern Rock Flathead, Cymbacephalus papillaris (McCulloch 1914)

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Coastal waters of northern Australia from Shark Bay, Western Australia, to the Gold Coast, Queensland; also Christmas Island in the eastern Indian Ocean. Elsewhere the species occurs in the West Pacific.

Inhabits sand patches on shallow rocky coastal areas to at least 58 m, most commonly in <10 m depth.


Dorsal fin IX or I, VIII, 11; Anal fin 11; Caudal fin 11; Pectoral fin 20-22 (usually 20 or 21); Pelvic fin I, 5; Lateral line scales (pored) 51-54 (usually 52 or 53).

Body elongate, slightly depressed. Head large (length 35-37% SL), moderately depressed, prominent ridges smooth, terminating in strong spines; suborbital ridge mostly smooth with two spines below eye; supraorbital ridge smooth anteriorly, with several spines posteriorly; no preorbital spines; a single preocular spine present; lower edge bicarinate; eyes large (17-21% HL), iris lappet cirrose; no dermal papillae on upper eye; anterior nostril with a short tentacle, no nasal spines; a deep, prominent pit behind upper eye; mouth large, extending to or just behind level of anterior margin of eye; teeth very small, in two parallel bands on vomer, in a narrow band on each palantine, no greatly enlarged canines; two short, subequal preopercular spines at angle of preopercle; gill rakers on first gill arch usually 6; interopercular flap present, lobate.

Scales small, finely ctenoid, covering body and most of head; lateral line scales similar to adjacent scales on side, 59-71 oblique rows of scales above lateral line, anterior 1 or 2 scales with a weak spine, single pored.

First dorsal fin spinous with short base, first spine well developed, third spine longest. Second dorsal fin with moderately long base, lower than longest dorsal spines, subequal in length. Anal fin similar in shape, commencing just posterior to second dorsal-fin origin, rays lower than second dorsal-fin rays and increase in size posteriorly. Caudal fin rounded. Pectoral fins broadly rounded. Pelvic fins long, based below centre of pectoral fins, almost or just reaching anal-fin origin, inner ray branched.


Maximum length at least 51 cm.


Blackish or brownish dorsally, sharply demarcated from lower coloration, with 6 or 7 distinct dark cross bands extending to lateral line, a series of dark blotches on lower side and cheek; whitish ventrally.

First dorsal fin with a broad submarginal dark band which broadens posteriorly; second dorsal fin dusky; caudal fin mottled with pale streaks and dark blotches; anal fin with a series of large brown blotches; pectoral and pelvic fins with small brown spots.


Presumably primarily piscivorous, also large benthic crustaceans.


Taken by trawlers operating in depths of 15-46 m, but most commonly found in shallower reef areas.


The species is named staigeri for Carl Staiger, a former director of the Brisbane Museum, Queensland.

Species Citation

Platycephalus staigeri Castelnau, 1875, Research. Fish. Australia 2: 17. Type locality: Queensland, Australia.


CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research & Bray, D.J. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Northern Rock Flathead, Cymbacephalus papillaris (McCulloch 1914)


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

Grant, E.M. 2002. Guide to Fishes. Redcliffe : EM Grant Pty Ltd 880 pp. (as Cymbacephalus paralis)

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

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. (as Cymbacephalus staigeri)

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. (as Suggrundus staigeri)

Knapp, L.W. 1973. Platycephalus beauforti, a new species of flathead (Pisces, Platycephalidae) from the western Pacific. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 86(10): 117-125.  (as Cymbacephalus staigeri)

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. (as Cymbacephalus staigeri)

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 Suggrundus staigeri)

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 (as Cymbacephalus staigeri)

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 2. Biological Results of the Fishing Experiments carried on by the F.I.S. Endeavour 1909-1914 2(3): 77-165 figs 1-15 pls 13-34

Whitley, G.P. 1952. Some noteworthy fishes from eastern Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales 1950–51: 27-32 figs 1-5 (as Cymbacephalus staigeri)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37296042

Danger:Venomous spines

Depth:1-60 m

Habitat:Reef associated, sand patches

Max Size:51 cm TL

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