Sea Mullet, Mugil cephalus Linnaeus 1758

Other Names: Bully, Bully Mullet, Flathead Grey Mullet, Flathead Mullet, Grey Mullet, Hardgut Mullet, Hard-gut Mullet, Hardgut River Mullet, Mangrove Mullet, Poddies, Poddy Mullet, Poddy Mullet and Mullet, River Mullet, Sand Mullet, Striped Mullet

Sea Mullet, Mugil cephalus, in Sydney Harbour, New South Wales. Source: Rick Stuart-Smith / Reef Life Survey. License: CC by Attribution


A bluish-grey to olive-brown mullet becoming silvery-white or paler below, with a dark-bluish spot at the base of the pectoral fin.

Although Mugil cephalus has been thought to occur worldwide, recent molecular studies, indicate that what has been considered to be Mugil cephalus is a complex of cryptic species.

Video of Sea Mullet scaling the Wolli fish ladder.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023, Mugil cephalus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 21 Apr 2024,

Sea Mullet, Mugil cephalus Linnaeus 1758

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Widespread in Australia, from far northern Queensland, around southern Australia to the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, including the Bass Strait area of Tasmania. Elsewhere the species is currently treated as being circumglobal in distribution.

Inhabits tropical and temperate coastal marine and estuarine waters, frequently entering the lower freshwater reaches of rivers. Sea Mullet can tolerate a wide salinity range and often move into lagoons, lakes and the upper reaches of estuaries. Adults migrate back to the sea to spawn. Although usually found at depths above 10 m, individuals have been found as deep as 120 m.


Dorsal fin IV + I, 8-9; Anal fin  III, 8; Caudal fin 14; Pectoral fin 16-17; Pelvic fin  I, 5

Body elongate, robust, moderately compressed, spindle-shaped; head small, dorsally broad and flat; snout short; mouth small, terminal, oblique; close-set row of slender monocuspid teeth in the edge of lips, three or four rows of bicuspid teeth in inner side of lips; adipose eyefold extensive over iris (except in specimens about 30 mm SL or less); posterior nostrils extending above level of upper rim of eye; anterior nostril entirely below vertical span of posterior; gill rakers long.
Scales pavement ctenoid, mucus canals straight, marked secondary squamation, no multicanaliculate scales; enlarged axillary scale at pectoral fin base; scales absent from head; mid-lateral scales 38-42; lateral line absent.
First dorsal fin origin on centre of back; 2nd dorsal fin opposite and similar in size and shape to anal fin; dorsal ray of pectoral fins developed as a short spur or ‘spine’ (not a true spine), not reaching origin of first dorsal fin; pectoral fins 16-21% standard length, 61-83% head length; upper insertion of pectoral fin at level of upper rim of eye; pelvic fins with I spine and 5 soft rays, inserted about midway between origins of pectoral fins and first dorsal fin.


Sea Mullet may grow to more than 70 cm in length, although most are around 40 cm; maximum weight 8 kg.


Variable in colour depending on the habitat. Individuals in the ocean are bluish grey on the back and upper sides, and silvery-white below. Sea Mullet in estuarine areas are an olive-brown with a pale belly.


Generally a bottom feeding detritivore. Juveniles feed on zooplankton and benthic amphipods and copepods. Adults often feed on algae covered rocks.


Mature Sea Mullet migrate along the coast or congregate in estuaries before moving offshore to spawn in surface waters over the continental shelf February to September depending on location. The pelagic larvae spend 2-3 months before moving back to estuarine and even freshwater areas at lengths of 2-3 cm. Fecundity is high with females producing between 300,000 and 7,200,000 pelagic eggs. Average egg diameter is 0.89 mm with an oil globule 0.39mm. Larvae are around 2.68 mm TL at hatching and feeding begins at 3-5 days post hatching


Sea Mullet are an important component of many coastal fishery and aquaculture programs.


IUCN Red List : Least Concern


Genetic studies indicate that what is currently recognised as Mugil cephalus is a complex of genetically isolated taxa that should be treated as distinct species (see references). However, not only is it unclear which of the many available names should apply to Australian species, genetic studies also indicate that more than one species may be present in Australia (Durand et al. 2012). 

Species Citation

Mugil cephalus Linnaeus 1758, Systema Naturae 10th Edn: 316. Type locality: European Ocean.


Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2023


Atlas of Living Australia

Sea Mullet, Mugil cephalus Linnaeus 1758


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Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37381002

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-20 m


Habitat:coastal marine, entering freshwater

Max Size:70 cm

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map