Dusky Flathead, Platycephalus fuscus Cuvier 1829

Other Names: Black Flathead, Dusky, Estuary Flathead, Flattie, Frog, Lizard, Mud Flathead, River Flathead

A Dusky Flathead, Platycephalus fuscus, at Shelly Beach, Sydney, New South Wales. Source: John Turnbull / Flickr. License: CC BY Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike


A common flathead in eastern Australia varying in colour from dark brown, greyish brown, sandy brown, olive brown, to almost black above, sometimes with darker bars and pale spots or blotches, and a bluish-grey caudal fin with small brown spots scattered above and a large dark spot or blotch near the margin on the upper part of the fin. Juveniles have three dark brown bands in juveniles on the tail. The species has a broad flattened head without tassells.  

Video of Dusky Flathead at the Gold Coast Seaway

Cite this page as:
CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research & Bray, D.J. 2022, Platycephalus fuscus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3359

Dusky Flathead, Platycephalus fuscus Cuvier 1829

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Inshore waters of the east coast of Australia from south of Cairns (Queensland) to the Gippsland Lakes (Victoria), and possibly further west. Inhabits sandy and silty areas in estuaries, coastal bays and sheltered reefs, occasionally entering rivers.


Dorsal fin I, I, VII, I, 13; Anal fin 12-13; Caudal fin 15; Pectoral fin 19-20; Pelvic fin I, 5; Lateral line scales 95-100.

Body elongate, slightly depressed. Head large (length ca. 29-30% SL), strongly depressed, with several prominent, mostly spineless ridges; two short, stout anteriorly pointing preorbital spines; eyes small (14-15% HL) with long iris lappet; mouth large, extending to level of mid-eye; teeth small, villiform, with a short canine at inner angle of both symphyses, two small patches of villiform teeth on vomer, a single series of small stout teeth on palantines, no greatly enlarged canines; two strong preopercular spines at angle of preopercle, lower slightly larger than upper; 2 or 3 gill rakers on lower limb, 7-10 on upper limb of first gill arch; interopecular flap present.

Scales small, finely ctenoid, covering body and most of head behind eyes; lateral line scales subequal in size to adjacent scales on side, ~130 oblique rows of scales above lateral line, anteriormost one or two scales with small spine or ridge.

First dorsal fin spinous with short base, first two spines very short, detached, following spines much longer, last spine in front of second dorsal fin minute. Second dorsal fin with moderately long base, anterior ray longest, unbranched. Anal fin similar in shape, opposite and slightly longer-based than second dorsal fin. Caudal fin slightly rounded. Pectoral fins short and rounded. Pelvic fins long, based below centre of pectoral fins. Swim bladder absent.


Maximum length at least 120 cm TL (typically 40-80 cm); maximum weight at least 15 kg (typically <6 kg).


Colour variable: dark brown, greyish brown, sandy brown, olive brown, to almost black dorsally, sometimes with darker bars and pale spots or blotches; pale to whitish ventrally. Caudal fin bluish grey on lower half, brown spotted on upper half with a single large spot or blotch on the outer central part of the fin; dorsal fins with brown spots on the spines and rays, forming interrupted bands; anal fin whitish; pectoral fins with dense covering of small brown to reddish brown spots, pelvic fins similar but with larger spots.


An ambush predator that lies motionless, often buried in sand. Feeds mostly on fishes (piscivorous), but also on large benthic crustaceans. 


A very important finfish caught by recreational and commercial fishers in eastern Australia. The Dusky Flathead is the largest and most sought after flathead species, being an important commercial species, especially in New South Wales estuaries. It is mostly caught by gillnetting and beach seining, but may also be taken by trawling.

This popular angling species is considered to be excellent eating.


Although Platycephalus cinereus Günther 1872 (a junior synonym of P. fuscus) was described from South Australia, the species has not otherwise been recorded from that state.


The specific name is from the Latin fuscus (= brown).

Species Citation

Platycephalus fuscus Cuvier, 1829 In Cuvier & Valenciennes, Hist. Nat. Poiss. v. 4, 1829: 241, Port Jackson, New South Wales.


CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research & Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Dusky Flathead, Platycephalus fuscus Cuvier 1829


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37296004

Danger:Venomous spines

Depth:1-25 m

Fishing:Commercial, recreational fish

Habitat:Estuaries, coastal marine

Max Size:120 cm TL; 15 kg


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