Fringelip Flathead, Sunagocia otaitensis (Cuvier 1829)

Other Names: Fringe Flathead, Fringe-lip Flathead

A Fringelip Flathead, Sunagocia otaitensis, at Madang, Papua New Guinea. Source: Roger Steene / FishBase. License: All rights reserved


A tan-coloured flathead with 4-5 indistinct bands across the back and a combination of lighter and darker mottlings, flecks, blotches and spots to match their sandy surroundings. Fringelip Flathead have rows of tiny warty papillae covering the lips. This well-camouflaged ambush predator usually lies buried or partially buried in sand. 

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO, 2020, Sunagocia otaitensis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 08 Dec 2022,

Fringelip Flathead, Sunagocia otaitensis (Cuvier 1829)

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Ningaloo Reef and Rowley Shoals, Western Australia, and Ashmore and Cartier Reefs, Timor Sea, to the far northern Great Barrier Reef to off Twonsville, Queensland, and reefs in the Coral Sea; also Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean. Elsewhere the species is widespread in the tropical Indo-Pacific from East Africa to the Tuamoto Islands, north to the Ryukyu and Izu Islands, including the Marshall and Caroline Islands in Micronesia, and northern Australia.

Inhabits sand and rubble areas of lagoons, and the sandy fringes of coral reefs, in depths of  1-40 m.


Dorsal fin IX, I,VIII, or I,VII,I , 11-12; Anal fin 11-12; Pectoral fin 19-22; Pelvic fin I, 5;Lateral line scales 50-54.

Body elongate, depressed. Head large (length 30-33% SL), moderately depressed; supraorbital ridge roughly serrated, bearing 4-10 spines on posterior half; suborbital ridge with 4 or 5 (rarely 3) spines; eyes large (21-26% HL), least interorbital width 7.9-12.2 in HL; no papilla on dorsal surface of eye; villiform teeth in broad bands on jaws and palatine, in two separate patches on vomer; lips with well developed papillae; sensory tubes from suborbital bones and peopercle weakly developed, extending to but not completely covering cheek region; preopercular spines 3, upper longest, not reaching posterior margin of opercle, not bearing a supplementary spine, lowermost smallest; base of lower opercular spine concealed by scales; interopercular not extended anteroventrally, without lobes. 

Scales small, mostly ctenoid, some cycloid on undersurface; oblique scale rows slanting downward and backward above lateral line about equal to number of lateral-line scales; lateral-line scales 50-54 (usually 52 or 53), anterior 1-3 lateral-line scales bearing a small spine.

First dorsal fin spinous with short base, first spine very short, detached, following spines much longer. Second dorsal fin with moderately long base, anterior rays longest, nearly as long as longest first dorsal spines. Anal fin similar in shape, opposite and slightly longer-based than second dorsal fin. Caudal fin rounded posteriorly. Pectoral fins rounded posteriorly. Pelvic fin long, based below centre of pectoral fins, reaching beyond origin of anal fin.


To at least 25 cm TL, commonly to about 19 cm TL.


Dorsal head and body tan, mottled with white flecks or spots, 4 or 5 vague bands across back; whitish ventrally. Fins mottled or spotted, larger spots or blotches frequently present on pectoral, pelvic and caudal fins.


Feeds on crabs, prawns, and fishes.


May be taken in trawls over sand near reefs.



Species Citation

Cottus otaitensis Cuvier (ex Parkinson), in Cuvier & Valenciennes 1829, Histoire Naturelle des Poissons Vol. 4: 242. Type locality: Otaïti (Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia, South Pacific).


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


Atlas of Living Australia

Fringelip Flathead, Sunagocia otaitensis (Cuvier 1829)


Allen, G.R. 1993. Fishes of Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 44: 67-91 

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

Allen, G.R. & Russell, B.C. 1986. Part VII Fishes. pp. 79-103 in Berry, P.F. (ed.). Faunal Surveys of the Rowley Shoals, Scott Reef and Seringapatam Reef, northwestern Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 25: 1-106 

Allen, G.R. & Smith-Vaniz, W.F. 1994. Fishes of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 412: 1-21

Allen, G.R., Steene, R.C. & Orchard, M. 2007. Fishes of Christmas Island. Christmas Island : Christmas Island Natural History Association 2 edn, 284 pp. 

Beaufort, L.F., De & Briggs, J.C. 1962. The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. XI. Brill, Leiden. 481 pp.

Bleeker, P. 1853. Nieuwe tientallen diagnostische beschrijvingen van nieuwe of weinig bekende vischsoorten van Sumatra. Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indië 5: 495-534 (described as Platycephalus malayanus) See ref at BHL

Chen, J. & Shao, K. 1993. A new record of flathead fish, Rogadius particiae (Platycephalidae), from Taiwan. Bull. Inst. Zool. Academia Sinica 32(2): 153-156.

Cuvier, G.L. in Cuvier, G.L. & Valenciennes, A. 1829. Histoire Naturelle des Poissons. Paris : Levrault Vol. 4 518 pp. pls 72-99. See ref at BHL

Fowler, H.W. 1949. The fishes of Oceania — Supplement 3. Memoirs of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum 12(2): 3-186 (as Suggrundus malayanus)

Hobbs, J-P.A., Newman, S.J., Mitsopoulos, G.E.A., Travers, M.J., Skepper, C.L., Gilligan, J.J., Allen, G.R., Choat, H.J. & Ayling, A.M. 2014. Checklist and new records of Christmas Island fishes: the influence of isolation, biogeography and habitat availability on species abundance and community composition. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 30: 184–202 

Hobbs, J-P.A., Newman, S .J., Mitsopoulos, G.E.A., Travers, M.J., Skepper, C.L., Gilligan, J.J., Allen, G.R., Choat, H.J. & Ayling, A.M. 2014. Fishes of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands: new records, community composition and biogeographic significance. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 30: 203–219

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

Imamura, H. 2003. Sungagocia, a new replacement name for the platycephalid genus Eurycephalus (Actinopterygii: Percomorpha), with taxonomic comments on the species of the genus. Species Diversity 8: 301-306.

Imamura, H., Ida, H., & Moyer, J.T. 1995. Redescription of a flathead, Thysanophrys otaitensis (Scorpaeniformes: Platycephalidae). Japanese Journal of Ichthyology 42(3-4): 277–283, open access (as Thysanophrys otaitensis)

Imamura, H. & Knapp, L.W. 1999. Thysanophrys papillaris, a new species of flathead from the Andaman Sea and northern Australia (Scorpaeniformes: Platycephalidae). Ichthyological Research 46(2): 179-183 

Knapp, L.W. 1984. Family Platycephalidae. 22 unnumbered pages, 30 figs in Fischer, W. & Bianchi, G. (eds) FAO Species Identification Sheets, Western Indian Ocean (Fishing Area 51). Rome : FAO Vol. 3. (as Thysanophrys otaitensis)

Knapp, L.W. 1986. Family No. 155: Platycephalidae. pp. 482-486 in Smith, M.M. & Heemstra, P.C. (eds). Smith's Sea Fishes. Johannesburg : Macmillan South Africa xx + 1047 pp. 144 pls. (as Thysanophrys otaitensis)

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 pp. 2069-2790. 

Knapp, L. W. & Imamura, H. 2004. Sunagocia sainsburyi, a new flathead fish (Scorpaeniformes: Platycephalidae) from northwestern Australia. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 17(4): 545-550

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp. (as Thysanophrys otaitensis)

Motomura, H. & Matsuura, K. 2016. Sunagocia otaitensis . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T69790740A69800892. Downloaded on 21 February 2020.

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp. figs. (as Thysanophrys otaitensis

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs. (as Thysanophrys otaitensis)

Schultz, L.P. 1966. Family Scorpaenidae. pp. 13-42, figs 136-143 in Schultz, L.P., Woods, L.P. & Lachner, E.A. (eds) Fishes of the Marshall and Marianas Islands. Vol. 3. Families Kraemeriidae through Antennariidae. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 202(3): 1-176, figs 133-156, pls 124-148 (described as Thysanophrys papillolabium) See ref at BHL

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37296046

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Danger:Venomous spines

Depth:1-40 m

Habitat:Reef associated, sandy areas

Max Size:30 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map