Lake Eacham Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia eachamensis Allen & Cross 1982

Other Names: Lake Eacham Rainbow Fish

Lake Eacham Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia eachamensis, from Lake Euramoo, Queensland. Source: Neil Armstrong. License: All rights reserved


A small silvery to bluish rainbowfish with a dark mid-lateral stripe, two fainter ventral bands, and reddish fins. Breeding males may be bronze to orange with a black margins on the dorsal and anal fins. They also have longer, more pointed and more brightly coloured fins than females.

The Lake Eacham Rainbowfish only occurs on the Atherton Tableland region of north Queensland.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2024, Melanotaenia eachamensis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 19 Apr 2024,

Lake Eacham Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia eachamensis Allen & Cross 1982

More Info


Endemic to the upper reaches of the Barron, North Johnstone and South Johnstone River catchments at altitudes above 500 m above sea level; also in Koombooloomba Dam on the Tully River, Atherton Tablelands, Queensland.

Individuals form schools amongst aquatic vegetation along the shallow edges of small freshwater creeks and crater lakes.


Meristic features: Dorsal-fin rays V-VI, I, 9-13; Anal-fin rays I, 15-21; Pectoral-fin rays 11-14.

Body laterally compressed, relatively elongate; greatest body depth 26.5% of SL; jaws about equal, oblique, premaxilla with an abrupt bend between the anterior horizontal portion and lateral part; jaw reaches back to front of eye; lips thin, except middle portion of upper lip bulbous; teeth conical with slightly curved tips, those in outer row generally stouter; teeth in upper jaw arranged in 2 irregular rows anteriorly, reduced to a single row posteriorly, outer row teeth exposed when mouth is closed; about 70-80 teeth in upper jaw; teeth in lower jaw in 3 or 4 irregular rows anteriorly, tapering to 1 or 2 rows posteriorly; about 140 teeth in lower jaw; vomerine teeth inconspicuous, 4-5 very small conical teeth; palatine with a band of 16-20 teeth arranged in a single row; head length 28.7 (27.6-32.5) in SL; snout length 8.6 (7.9-10.0) in SL; eye diameter 9.9 (8.6-12.1) in SL.

Scales large, arranged in regular horizontal rows; body scales with smooth to slightly crenulate margins; horizontal scale rows 10-12; vertical scale rows 33-38; cheek scales 9-15.

Two separate dorsal fins; first originates well ahead of anal fin origin; soft dorsal and anal fin rectangular in outline, the posterior rays somewhat elongate and pointed in males. Pelvic fin tips when depressed extending to about base of Ist or 2nd soft anal ray in mature males and not reaching anal fin origin in females; pectoral fins pointed; caudal fin moderately forked.


To around 6.5 cm SL


Colour varies with locality but generally silvery or bluish to red-brown with dark midlateral stripe and 2-3 thinner dark bands below; fins transparent to bright red; fin margins of breeding males black.


Feeds on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, and algae.


Spawning occurs from August to April with peak activity from August to November. Eggs are attached to fine root masses in well oxygenated areas.

Eggs are small, demersal and adhesive.
Larvae are small at hatching and lack a well-developed yolk sac. Larval development is complete at 11-14 mm TL.


  • EPBC Act 1999 : Endangered
  • IUCN Red List : Vulnerable
  • Originally described from Lake Eacham, an isolated crater lake on the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland. The Lake Eacham Rainbowfish is presumed extinct in the Lake due to predation by illegally translocated native fishes. 

    During the 1980s a number of native fishes were translocated into the lake - Barred Grunter (Amniataba percoides), Mouth Almighty (Glossamia aprion), Bony Herring (Nematalosa erebi) and Seven-spot Archerfish (Toxotes chatareus). By 1987 these translocated species were abundant and the Lake Eacham rainbowfish could not be found (Barlow et al., 1987).

    In some areas, the species naturally hybridises with the eastern rainbowfish (Melanotaenia splendida), and it is important to conserve the most genetically pure populations (Zhu et al., 1998).


    Although thought to be extinct in 1987, the Lake Eacham Rainbowfish was rediscovered in the private collections of aquarists (Caughey et al., 1990). The species was subsequently found to have a wider distribution, with populations surviving in the wild in the upper Barron and Johnstone River catchments.


    The species is named eachamensis after the type locality, Lake Eacham.

    Species Citation

    Melanotaenia eachamensis Allen & Cross, 1982, Rainbowfishes of Australia and Papua New Guinea: 45. Type locality: Lake Eacham, Atherton Tableland, N QLD.


    Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2024

    Lake Eacham Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia eachamensis Allen & Cross 1982


    Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia.  Neptune, New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications pp. 1–240.

    Allen G.R. 1989. Lake Eacham rainbowfish rediscovered? Fishes of Sahul 5: 217-219. 

    Allen G.R. 1995. Rainbowfishes: In Nature and in the Aquarium. Tetra-Verlag, Melle. 

    Allen G.R. & N.J. Cross. 1982. Rainbowfishes of Australia and Papua New Guinea. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

    Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of Australia.  Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

    Barlow C.G., A.E. Hogan & L.G. Rogers. 1987. Implication of translocated fishes in the apparent extinction in the wild of the Lake Eacham rainbowfish, Melanotaenia eachamensis. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 38: 897-902. 

    Brooks, S. 2012. Lake Eacham Rainbowfish Melanotaenia eachamensis Allen & Cross, 1982. In: Curtis, L.K., A.J. Dennis, K.R. McDonald, P.M. Kyne & S.J.S. Debus, eds. Queensland's Threatened Animals. CSIRO Publishing.

    Brown, C. 2003. Habitat–predator association and avoidance in rainbowfish (Melanotaenia spp.) Ecology of Freshwater Fish 12: 118–126.

    Brown, C., Y. Aksoy, H. Varinli & M. Gillings. 2012. Identification of the rainbowfish in Lake Eacham using DNA sequencing. Australian Journal of Zoology 60:5: 334-.

    Brown, C. & Warburton, K. 1997. Predator recognition and anti-predator responses in the rainbowfish Melanotaenia eachamensis. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 41: 61–68.

    Burrows, D. 2002. Fish stocking and the distribution and potential impact of translocated fishes in streams of the Wet Tropics region, north Queensland. Report to the Wet Tropics Management Authority, Cairns.

    Burrows, D.W. 2004. Translocated Fishes in Streams of the Wet Tropics Region, North Queensland: Distribution and Potential Impact. Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management. Rainforest CRC, Cairns, 83 pp. 

    Campbell. R. 1985. Melanotaenia eachamensis. Fishes of Sahul. Journal of the Australia New Guinea Fishes Association 2(3): 81.

    Caughey, AS, Hume, S & Wattam, A. 1990. Melanotaenia eachamensis – history and management of captive stocks. Fishes of Sahul 6: 241–247.

    Crowley, L.E.L.M. & W. Ivantsoff. 1991. Genetic similarity among populations of rainbowfishes (Pisces: Melanotaeniidae) from Atherton Tableland, Northern Queensland. Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 2: 129-137. 

    Hurwood, D.A. & J.M. Hughes. 2001. Historical interdrainage dispersal of eastern rainbowfish from the Atherton Tableland, north-eastern Australia. Journal of Fish Biology 58: 1125-1136.

    Ingram, B.A., Barlow, C.G., Burchmore, J.J., Gooley, G.J., Rowland, S.J. & Sanger, A.C. 1990. Threatened native freshwater fishes in Australia - some case histories. Journal of Fish Biology 37: 175-182.

    Leggett, R. & Merrick, J.R. 1987. Australian Native Fishes for Aquariums. Artarmon : J.R. Merrick Publications 241 pp.

    McGuigan, K.L. 2000. An addition to the rainbowfish (Melanotaeniidae) fauna of north Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 46: 647-655.

    McGuigan, K.L., D. Zhu, G.R. Allen & C. Moritz. 2000. Phylogenetic relationships and historical biogeography of melanotaeniid fishes in Australia and New Guinea. Marine and Freshwater Research 51: 713-723. 

    Moritz, C., D. Zhu & S. Degnan. 1995. Evolutionary distinctiveness and conservation status of the Lake Eacham rainbowfish, Melanotaenia eachamensis. Final Report to Wet Tropics Management Authority, Department of Environment and Heritage. University of Queensland, St Lucia.

    Pusey, B.J., J. Bird, M.J. Kennard & A.H. Arthington. 1997. Distribution of the Lake Eacham Rainbowfish in the Wet Tropics region, north Queensland. Australian Journal of Zoology 45: 75-84.

    Pusey, B.J., M.J. Kennard & A.H. Arthington. 2004. Freshwater Fishes of North-Eastern Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria. 

    Tappin, A.R. 1991. Keeping and breeding the "extinct" rainbowfish Melanotaenia eachamensis. ANGFA Bulletin (Bulletin of the Australia New Guinea Fishes Association) 10: 3-4.

    Tims, A.R., Unmack, P.J., Hammer, M.P., Brown, C., Adams, M. & McGee, M.D. 2024. Museum genomics reveals the hybrid origin of an extinct crater lake endemic. Systematic Biology: syae017,

    Trenerry, M. & Werren, G. 1991. Fishes. Pages 104-107 in Nix, H.A. & Switzer, M.A. (eds) Rainforest Animals: Atlas of Vertebrates Endemic to Australia's Wet Tropics. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra. 112 pp. 

    Unmack, P.J., Allen, G.R. & Johnson, J.B. 2013. Phylogeny and biogeography of rainbowfishes (Melanotaeniidae) from Australia and New Guinea. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 67: 15-27.

    Wager, R. 1996. Melanotaenia eachamensis. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. <>. Downloaded on 25 August 2013.

    Wager, R. & Jackson, P. 1993. The Action Plan for Australian Freshwater Fishes. Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Canberra, ACT.

    Zhu, D., S. Degnan & C. Moritz. 1998. Evolutionary distinctiveness and status of the Lake Eacham rainbowfish (Melanotaenia eachamensis). Conservation Biology 12: 80-93.

    Zhu, D., B.G.M. Jamieson, A. Hugall & C. Moritz. 1994. Sequence evolution and phylogenetic signal in control-region and cytochrome b sequences of rainbowfishes (Melanotaeniidae). Molecular Biology and Evolution 11: 672-683.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37245005

    Conservation:EPBC Act Endangered; IUCN Vulnerable


    Max Size:6.5 cm SL


    Species Image Gallery

    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map