Spotted Scat, Scatophagus argus (Linnaeus 1766)

Other Names: Butterfish, Mia Mia, Mia-mia, Spotted Butterfish, Spotted Butter-fish, Tiger Butterfish, Tiger Scat

A Spotted Scat, Scatophagus argus. Source: Brian Gratwicke / Flickr: EOL Images. License: CC BY Attribution


A deep-bodied silvery fish with a steep dorsal profile before the dorsal-fin origin. Adults are silvery to greenish with brownish to reddish brown spots. Small juveniles have alternating dark and whitish to yellowish bars and often reddish-orange patches on the head and along the back, and reddish dorsal and pelvic fins.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2021, Scatophagus argus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 19 May 2024,

Spotted Scat, Scatophagus argus (Linnaeus 1766)

More Info


Northern half of Australia from Port Hedland, Western Australia, to Sydney, New South Wales, with juveniles further south. Elsewhere, the species is widespread in the tropical Indo-West Pacific from southern India and Sri Lanka, eastward to Tahiti, and northward to southern Japan.
Inhabits sheltered bays, harbours, mangrove creeks and the lower reaches of freshwater streams. Adults usually form schools, while small juveniles are solitary. Tiny juveniles are seen floating at the surface.


Dorsal fin XI, 16-18; Anal fin IV, 13-15; Pectoral fin 16-17; Pelvic fin I, 5. 
Body quadrangular, strongly compressed. Head small, dorsal profile steep. Eye moderately large, its diameter somewhat smaller than snout length. Snout rounded. Mouth small, terminal, horizontal, not protractile. Teeth villiform, in several rows on jaws; gill membrane forming a free fold across isthmus; caudal peduncle short.
Scales small, ctenoid covering head, body, caudal fin, and soft parts of anal and dorsal fins; lateral line distinct following back profile.
First dorsal-fin spine procumbent (lying flat); a deep notch between spinous and soft parts of dorsal fin. Posterior margin of soft portions of dorsal and anal fins more or less vertical. Caudal fin from rounded (in juveniles) to truncate or slightly emarginate.


To around 33 cm SL.


Brown or greenish with a silvery to golden sheen on sides. Body covered with brown or reddish-brown spots. In large adults spots may be faint and restricted to dorsal part of flanks. Juveniles with a few large roundish blotches, about size of eye, or with about 5 or 6 broad, dark, vertical bars.


Omnivorous scavengers feeding on a variety of food items including algae, detritus, and small benthic invertebrates.


Little is known of the reproductive biology of this species. Juveniles go through a pelagic “tholichthys” larval stage.


A popular aquarium fish. Also of minor commercial importance in many parts of its range and marketed fresh.


Strong fin spines have venom glands at the bases.


The species is named after Argos Panoptes, the Greek mythical hundred-eyed guardian of Io, in reference to the brown to reddish spots on the side of this species. After his death, the eyes of Argus were transformed into the spots on the tail feathers of a peacock.                            

Species Citation

Chaetodon argus Linnaeus, 1766, Systema Naturae. 1: 464. Type locality: India.


Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2021


Atlas of Living Australia

Spotted Scat, Scatophagus argus (Linnaeus 1766)


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

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. Tabubil, Papua New Guinea : Ok Tedi Mining 216 pp. 

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. 1876. Mémoire sur les poissons appelés barramundi par les aborigènes du nord-est de l'Australie. Journal de Zoologie 5: 129-136 (described as Scatophagus alternans) See ref at BHL

Collen, B., Richman, N., Beresford, A., Chenery, A. & Ram, M. (Sampled Red List Index Coordinating Team). 2010. Scatophagus argus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T155268A4761779. Downloaded on 09 March 2021.

Cuvier, G.L. in Cuvier, G.L. & Valenciennes, A. 1831. Histoire Naturelle des Poissons. Paris : Levrault Vol. 7 531 pp. pls 170-208. (described as Scatophagus ornatus) See ref at BHL

De Vis, C.W. 1882. Queensland Philosophical Society. Brisbane Courier 1882(3 June): 5 (described as Scatophagus quadratus)

De Vis, C.W. 1884. New fishes in the Queensland Museum. No. 2. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 9(3): 453-462 (described as Scatophagus quadranus, an unjustified emendation of S. quadratus) See ref at BHL

Hitchcock, G., Finn, M.A., Burrows, D.W. & Johnson, J.W. 2012. Fishes from fresh and brackish waters of islands in Torres Strait, far north Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 56(1): 14-24 

Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3) 

Klunzinger, C.B. 1880. Die von Müller'sche Sammlung australischer Fische in Stuttgart. Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien 80(1): 325-430 pls 1-9 (described as Scatophagus argus ocellata) See ref at BHL

Kottelat, M. 2001. Scatophagidae. pp. 3623-3626 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. 6 pp. 3381-4218. 

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp. 

Kuiter, R.H. & Debelius, H. 2001. Surgeonfishes, Rabbitfishes and Their Relatives. A comprehensive guide to Acanthuroidei. Chorleywood, U.K. : TMC Publishing 208 pp. 

Kuiter, R. & Kuiter, S. 2018. Fish watchers guide to coastal sea-fishes of south-eastern Australia. Seaford, Victoria : Aquatic Photographics, 371 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. 

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

Linnaeus, C. 1766. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Holmiae [=Stockholm] : Laurentii Salvii, Tomus I. Regnum Animale(1) Editio duodecima, reformata [3 vols., 1766-68], 532 pp. See ref online

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

Morgan, D.L., Allen, M.G., Bedford, P. & Horstman, M. 2004. Fish fauna of the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia – including the Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Ngarinyin, Nyikina and Walmajarii Aboriginal names. Records of the Western Australian Museum 22: 147-161

Pusey, B.J., Burrows, D.W., Kennard, M.J., Perna, C.N., Unmack. P.J., Allsop, Q. & Hammer, M.P. 2017. Freshwater fishes of northern Australia. Zootaxa 4253(1): 1-104

Whitley, G.P. 1956. Ichthyological notes. The Australian Zoologist 12(3): 251-261 (as Prenes ornatus)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37363002

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-5 m

Habitat:Popular aquarium fish

Max Size:35 cm TL

Max Size:Freshwater, estuarine, sheltered marine

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