Cockatoo Waspfish, Ablabys taenianotus (Cuvier 1829)

Other Names: Cockatoo Fish, Leaf Fish

A Cockatoo Waspfish, Ablabys taenianotus, on the Gold Coast Seaway, southern Queensland, June 2017. Source: Deb Aston / License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial

A dark brown to reddish or yellow waspfish with a strongly compressed body, an almost vertical snout, elevated spines at the front of the dorsal fin, and often a white forehead and snout. Adults may have a scribbled pattern of dark lines and blotches on the dorsal fin.
These masters of disguise are often seen swaying back and forth, mimicing leaves or debris moving with the current surge. As with other scorpionfish relatives, this species has venomous fin spines.
A pair of Cockatoo Waspfish mimicking dead leaves moving with the surge in Bali, Indonesia.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2019, Ablabys taenianotus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 07 Mar 2021,

Cockatoo Waspfish, Ablabys taenianotus (Cuvier 1829)

More Info


Recorded in Australia from North West Cape, Western Australia, and Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island, Timor Sea, to Sydney, New South Wales; also Lord Howe Island, Middleton Reef and Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species occurs in the tropical, east-Indo-west Pacific.

Individuals or pairs inhabit sandy, rubble, muddy and weedy areas on sheltered inshore reefs, usually at depths to 20 m.


Dorsal fin XVII-XVIII, 6-7; Anal fin III, 4-5; Pectoral fin 11-12; Longitudinal scales series 90.
Body depth 2.6-2.8 in SL. Dorsal fin originating over front edge of eye, membranes not incised; spinous portion usually held erect, second dorsal-fin spine longest, almost equal to head length.
Lacrimal with two posteriorly-directed spines, posterior spine about three times length of anterior spine; preopercular border with 5 spines, uppermost spine about half eye diameter, four lower spines short, blunt.

Similar Species

The similar Lesser-scaled Cockatoo Waspfish, Ablabys pauciporus, differs in having distinctly lower body scale counts, including the number of lateral-line pores (12 or 13 vs. 20–25 in A. taenianotus), strongly notched interspinous dorsal-fin membranes (vs. weakly notched or un-notched in A. taenianotus), and some differing morphometrics (including head depth, orbit diameter and pelvic-fin length) and in coloration.

Species Citation

Apistus taenianotus Cuvier, 1829, Règne Animal 2: 168. Type locality: Mauritius.


Bray, D.J. 2019


Atlas of Living Australia

Cockatoo Waspfish, Ablabys taenianotus (Cuvier 1829)


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

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

Allen, G.R., Hoese, D.F., Paxton, J.R., Randall, J.E., Russell, B.C., Starck, W.A., Talbot, F.H. & Whitley, G.P. 1976. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Lord Howe Island. Records of the Australian Museum 30(15): 365-454 figs 1-2 (as Ablabys slacksmithi)

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.

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Cuvier, G. 1829. Le Règne Animal, distribué d'après son organisation, pour servir de base à l'histoire naturelle des animaux et d'introduction à l'anatomie comparée. Paris : Déterville Vol. 2, Edn 2, i-xv + pp. 1-406.

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Francis, M.P. 1991. Additions to the Fish Faunas of Lord Howe, Norfolk, and Kermadec Islands, Southwest Pacific Ocean. Pacific Science 45(2): 204-220 figs 1-44

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

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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

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

Kuiter, R.H. & Tonozuka, T. 2001. Pictorial guide to Indonesian reef fishes. Part 1. Eels- Snappers, Muraenidae - Lutjanidae. Australia : Zoonetics, Australia pp. 1-302.

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.

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Randall, J.E. 2005. Reef and shore fishes of the South Pacific. New Caledonia to Tahiti and the Pitcairn Islands. Honolulu : University of Hawaii Press 707 pp.

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.

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Randall, J.E. & Spreinat, A. 2004. The subadult of labrid fish Novaculoides macrolepidotus, a mimic of waspfishes of the genus Ablabys. aqua, Journal of Ichthyology and Aquatic Biology 8(2): 45-48.

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Whitley, G.P. 1966. Genera piscium: work in progress. The Australian Zoologist 13(3): 231-234 [as Ablabys (Parocosia) slacksmithi and Ablabys taenianotus]

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37287031

Danger:Venomous spines

Depth:0-80 m

Fishing:Aquarium fish

Habitat:Sandy, rubble, weed areas

Max Size:15 cm TL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map