McCulloch's Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia maccullochi Ogilby 1915

Other Names: McCulloch's Rainbow Fish, McCulloch's Rainbow-fish, McCulloch's Sun-fish

McCulloch's Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia maccullochi, from Skull Creek, a tributary of Burster Creek, Cape York, Queensland. . Source: Dave Wilson / Aquagreen. License: All rights reserved


A very small rainbowfish with several distinct colour forms across its range. McCulloch's Rainbowfish is very popular with aquarists.

Body silvery-white to yellowish, with 6-8 reddish-brown to blackish stripes along the sides. The dorsal and anal fins are variable in colour with black submarginal bands.

Video of Macculloch's Rainbowfish from Skull Creek.

Cite this page as:
Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray, Melanotaenia maccullochi in Fishes of Australia, accessed 21 Oct 2020,

McCulloch's Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia maccullochi Ogilby 1915

More Info


At least four relict populations occur in QLD, Jardine River, Cape York Peninsula, sand plain country around McIvor River, small tributary streams along N side of Daintree River and on narrow coastal plain between Cairns and Cardwell. Also in Papua New Guinea.

Inhabits clear freshwater creeks and Pandanus swamps with vegetation and woody debris.


Meristic features:
Dorsal-fin spines/rays: IV-VII; I, 7-12
Anal-fin spines/rays: I, 13-19
Pectoral-fin rays: 11-14

Body slender, greatest body depth (specimens 30-50 mm SL): males 30.3-37.8 % SL, females 28.1-32.3 % SL; head length 25.3-31.0 in SL; snout length 7.0-9.3 in SL; eye diameter 9.0-12.5 in SL; jaw teeth conical, vomer with a solid band of well-developed teeth; teeth present on palatines; lateral line absent.

Scales cycloid to slightly crenulate with well-developed radii; large, horizontal scale rows 9 or 10; vertical scale rows 31 to 35.

Two separate dorsal fins, 1st originating just forward of the origin of the anal fin; anal fin long based; caudal fin forked.


To 6-7 cm SL


Silvery-white to yellowish with 6-8 narrow reddish-brown lateral stripes, head and nape dark brown/black, dorsal and anal fins pale to bright red with various dark lines. There is geographic variation in colouration, particularly in the intensity of dark body stripes, markings on the dorsal and anal fins and the bright ’courtship’ stripe on the nape of males.


Omnivores - feed on aquatic insects, microcrustaceans and algae.


Spawn over several days, and females lay between 150-200 adhesive eggs that likely to attach to aquatic vegetation.
Eggs have short adhesive filaments.
Larvae hatch after 7-9 days depending on water temperature and grow to 12 mm in 60 days.


A very popular and peaceful aquarium fish.


  • EPBC Act 1999 : Not listed
  • IUCN Red List : Not Evaluated
  • Etymology

    Named after the well kn own Australian ichthyologist, Allan R. McCulloch.

    Species Citation

    Melanotaenia maccullochi Ogilby, 1915, Mem. Qld Mus. 3: 118. Type locality: Barron River, N QLD.


    Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray

    McCulloch's Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia maccullochi Ogilby 1915


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

    Allen, G.R., 1991. Field guide to the freshwater fishes of New Guinea. Publication, no. 9. 268 p. Christensen Research Institute, Madang, Papua New Guinea.

    Allen, G.R. & Cross, N.J. 1982. Rainbowfishes of Australia and Papua-New Guinea. New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications 142 pp. figs.

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

    Cook, B.D., P.J. Unmack, J.A. Huey & J.M. Hughes. 2014. Origin of relict populations of freshwater fishes in northern Australia with common disjunct distributions (Pseudomugil gertrudae, Denariusa australis and Melanotaenia maccullochi). Freshwater Science 33: 263–272.

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

    Merrick, J.R. & Schmida, G.E. 1984. Australian Freshwater Fishes Biology and Management. Sydney : J.R. Merrick 409 pp. figs 280 col. figs.

    Ogilby, J.D. 1915. On some new or little-known Australian fishes. Mem. Qld Mus. 3: 117–129 figs 29–30

    Pusey, B., Kennard M. & Arthington, A. 2004. Freshwater fishes of north-eastern Australia. CSIRO publishing, Collingwood, Victoria 684p.

    White, B.N., R.J. Lavenberg & G.E. McGowen. 1984. Atheriniformes: development and relationships. p. 355-362. In Moser, H.G., Richards, W.J., Cohen, D.M., Fahay, M.P., Kendall Jr., A.W. & Richardson, S.L. (eds). Ontogeny and systematics of fishes. Lawrence, Kansas : American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Vol. Special Publication No. 1. 760 pp.

    Quick Facts

    CAAB Code:37245009

    Fishing:Popular aquarium fish

    Habitat:Clear freshwaters

    Max Size:7 cm SL

    Species Image Gallery

    Species Maps

    CAAB distribution map