Red Morwong, Morwong fuscus (Castelnau 1879)

Other Names: Sea Carp

A Red Morwong, Morwong fuscus, at Fairy Bower, Manly, New South Wales, January 2017. Source: John Turnbull / Flickr. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


A brownish-pink to reddish-brown morwong becoming silvery white below, with pale vertical markings on the rear of the body, and silvery white stripes running from the snout, over the eye to beyond the gill cover.

Prior to the revision of Ludt et al. (2019), this species was known as Cheilodactylus fuscus and was placed in the family Cheilodactylidae.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2024, Morwong fuscus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 19 May 2024,

Red Morwong, Morwong fuscus (Castelnau 1879)

More Info


Bundaberg, Queensland, to Mallacoota (and possibly further west to Cape Conran), Victoria; also Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere, the species occurs in northeastern New Zealand.
Inhabits exposed reefs at depths to 30 m. Red Morwong are particularly common in central New South Wales, often congregating at the base of rocky outcrops. Juveniles often shelter among macroalgae.


Dorsal fin XVII, 30-34; Anal fin III, 8; Caudal fin 17; Pectoral fin 13-14; Pelvic fin I, 5; Lateral line scales 60-64.
Body moderately short and deep (39-45% SL), compressed; caudal peduncle very shallow. Head moderately small (approx. 29% SL), dorsal profile steeply inclined, two pair of bony horn like processes developing in adults, one on tip of snout just above upper lip and other in front of eyes; eyes moderately small (24-27% HL); mouth small, not reaching below eyes, lips thick and fleshy; teeth small, pointed, broad band in each jaw anteriorly, tapering to single row laterally. Scales moderately small, cycloid, covering body and much of head, scales on head much smaller than those on body; lateral line continuous, nearly straight.  Dorsal fin continuous, low, with elongate base, originating above hind edge of preopercles, little demarcation between spinous and soft portions, spinous and soft portions of similar lengths, soft portion of uniform height, rays slightly longer than last spine; anal fin triangular, with short base, centred below soft portion of dorsal fin; caudal fin forked, tips rounded. Pectoral fin of moderate size, rays branched dorsally, unbranched and thickened ventrally, uppermost two or three simple rays extended, reaching slightly beyond origin of anal fin. Pelvic fin small, inserted distinctly below and behind pectoral-fin origin.  



Pale brown to brownish red with silvery white area covering lower half of head and abdomen posteriorly to rear end of anal fin base; pale line from between eyes to forward portion of lateral line and several small pale bars posteriorly on body above lateral line and crossing caudal peduncle; each pectoral fin base with dark spot; pectoral fins pale pink; other fins pale with broad dark margins thinly edged with white. Frightened individuals become totally pale with about seven to eight dark blotches or bars midlaterally on sides.
Juveniles have distinct bands along the body.


Feeds on benthic invertebrates.




Similar Species


The specific name is from the Latin fuscus (= brown) in reference to the body colour described by Castelnau as "uniform brown".

Species Citation

Cheilodactylus fuscus Castelnau 1879, Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. 1 3(4): 376. Type locality: Sydney, New South Wales.


Bray, D.J. 2024


Atlas of Living Australia

Red Morwong, Morwong fuscus (Castelnau 1879)


Allan, R. 2002. Australian Fish and How to Catch Them. Sydney : New Holland Publishers (Australia) 394 pp. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Allen, G.R. & Heemstra, P.C. 1976. Cheilodactylus rubrolabiatus, a new species of morwong (Pisces : Cheilodactylidae) from Western Australia, with a key to the cheilodactylid fishes of Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 4(4): 311-325 figs 1-2 (as Cheilodactylus fuscus) See ref online 

Ayling, T. & Cox, G.J. 1982. Collins Guide to the Seafishes of New Zealand. Auckland : Collins 343 pp. 48 pls 475 figs. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Burridge, C.P. & White, R.W.G. 2000. Molecular phylogeny of the antitropical subgenus Goniistius (Perciformes: Cheilodactylidae: Cheilodactylus): evidence for multiple transequatorial divergences and non-monophyly. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 70: 435-458,

Castelnau, F.L. de 1879. Essay on the ichthyology of Port Jackson. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 3(4): 347-402. (described as Cheilodactylus fuscus and as Cheilodactylus annularis) See ref at BHL

Edgar, G.J. 2008. Australian Marine Life: the plants and animals of temperate waters. Sydney : Reed New Holland 2, 624 pp. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Fetterplace, L.C., Turnbull, J.W., Knott, N. A. & Hardy, N.A. 2018. The devil in the deep: Expanding the known habitat of a rare and protected fish. European Journal of Ecology 4(1): 22-29. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)   

Francis, M. 1993. Checklist of the coastal fishes of Lord Howe, Norfolk, and Kermadec Islands, southwest Pacific Ocean. Pacific Science 47(2): 136-170 figs 1-2. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)  

Grant, E.M. 1991. Fishes of Australia. Brisbane : EM Grant Pty Ltd 480 pp. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)  

Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)  

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) (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Kimura, K., Imamura, H. & Kawai, T. 2018. Comparative morphology and phylogenetic systematics of the families Cheilodactylidae and Latridae (Perciformes: Cirrhitoidea), and proposal of a new classification. Zootaxa 4536(1): 1-72, (as Goniistius fuscus)

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

Kuiter, R.H. 1994. Family Cheilodactylidae. pp. 644-655, figs 566-574 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Kuiter, R.H. & Kuiter, S.L. 2018. Fish watchers guide to coastal sea-fishes of south-eastern Australia. Seaford, Victoria : Aquatic Photographics, 371 pp. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Lincoln Smith, M.P., Bell, J.D., Pollard, D.A. & Russell, B.C. 1989. Catch and effort of competition spearfishers in southeastern Australia. Fisheries Research 8: 45–61 (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Lockett, M.M. & Suthers, I.M. 1998. Ontogenetic diet shift and feeding activity in the temperate reef fish Cheilodactylus fuscus. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 120: 105-116. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus) See ref at BHL

Lowry, M. 2003. Age and growth of Cheilodactylus fuscus, a temperate rocky reef fish. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 37(1): 159-170. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Lowry, M. & Cappo, M. 1999. Morwongs. pp. 172-179 in Andrew, N. (ed.) Under Southern Seas - The ecology of Australia's rocky reefs. Sydney : University of New South Wales Press 238 pp. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Lowry, M.B. & Suthers, I. M. 1998. Home range, activity and distribution patterns of a temperate rocky-reef fish, Cheilodactylus fuscus. Marine Biology 132(4): 569-578. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Lowry, M. & Suthers, I. 2004. Population structure of aggregations, and response to spear fishing, of a large temperate reef fish Cheilodactylus fuscus. Marine Ecology Progress Series 273: 199-210 (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Ludt, W.B., Burridge, C.P. & Chakrabarty, P. 2019. A taxonomic revision of Cheilodactylidae and Latridae (Centrarchiformes: Cirrhitoidei) using morphological and genomic characters. Zootaxa 4585 (1): 121–141,

McLean, C., Miskiewicz, A.G. & Roberts, E.A. 1991. Effect of three primary treatment sewage outfalls on metal concentrations in the fish Cheilodactylus fuscus collected along the coast of Sydney, Australia. Marine Pollution Bulletin 22(3): 134–140. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Randall, J.E. 2001. Cirrhitidae, Cheilodactylidae. pp. 3321-3330 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 5 2791-3379 pp. 

Roberts, C.D. 2015. 199 Family Cheilodactylidae, pp. 1347-1357, in Roberts, C.D., Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. (eds). The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 4 pp. 1153-1748. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Roberts, C.D. & Gomon, M.F. 2008. Families Cheilodactylidae and Latridae. pp. 624-632 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp. (as Cheilodactylus fuscus)

Schroeder, A., Lowry, M. & Suthers, I. 1994. Sexual dimorphism in the red morwong (Cheilodactylus fuscus). Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 45: 1173–1180.

Whitley, G.P. 1957. Ichthyological Illustrations. Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales 1955–56: 56-71, figs 1-12

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37377009

Depth:0-55 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:65 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map