Old Wife, Enoplosus armatus (White 1790)

Other Names: Angelfish, Bastard Dory, Double Scalare, Moonlighter, Zebra Fish, Zebrafish, Zebra-fish

Old Wives, Enoplosus armatus, between Shelly Beach and Fairy Bower, Manly, New South Wales, April 2017. Source: Erik Schlogl / iNaturalist.org. License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial

The Old Wife is easily recognised by its deep compressed body, very tall "spikey" dorsal and anal fins and prominent dark brown to black and white bands.

Video of Enoplosus armatus at Esperance, Western Australia.

The derogatory name "Old Wife" reportedly refers to sound made by this species grinding its teeth when caught on hook and line.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Enoplosus armatus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 24 Nov 2020,

Old Wife, Enoplosus armatus (White 1790)

More Info


Endemic to temperate marine waters of Australia, from just south of Fraser Island (Queensland) to South Passage (Western Australia) and around Tasmania. The Old Wife is found on inshore rocky reefs, frequently among kelp beds at depths between 0-83 metres. Juveniles often shelter in seagrass beds.


Meristic counts: Dorsal fin VIII; I, 14-15; Anal fin III, 14-15; Pectoral fin 13-14; Pelvic fin I, 5; Caudal fin 17; Lateral line scales 55-60.

Body deep, very compressed, oval in shape, head concave with a short pointed snout; dorsal and anal fins high anteriorly, first dorsal distinctly separate from the second; pelvic fins large, prominent.


To 30 cm.


Body silvery-white to cream, with 6-8 dark brown to black vertical bands of varying widths, the widest and most prominent bands extending from the spinous dorsal-fin to the pelvic fin, and from the tip of the second dorsal fin through the beginning of the soft anal-fin rays respectively. Pale part of fins may be pinkish.


Carnivore, feeding on small invertebrates. Old wives may set up cleaning stations and remove parasites from other fishes.


Of no interest to fisheries.


Not evaluated


The name "Old Wife" comes from the grinding or grating noise made when the fish is captured. The species has venomous fin spines, however there is no associated venom gland.

Similar Species

The Old Wife is the only species in the Family Enoplosidae.


Dianne J. Bray

Old Wife, Enoplosus armatus (White 1790)


Glover, C.J.M. 1994. Family Enoplosidae. In: Gomon, M.F., C.J.M. Glover & R.H. Kuiter (eds) The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. 992 p., 810 figs.

Gomon, M.F. 2008. Family Enoplosidae (pp. 609-610) In: Gomon, M.F., D.J. Bray & R.H. Kuiter (eds) The Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Reed New Holland, Chatswood, Australis. 928 p.

Hindell, J.S., G.P. Jenkins & M.J. Keough. 2000. Variability in abundances of fishes associated with seagrass habitats in relation to diets of predatory fishes. Mar. Biol. 136(4): 725-737.

Hutchins, J.B. 2001. Enoplosidae (p. 3287) In: Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 5 2791-3379 pp. [3287]

Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. 180 p.

Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43(2): 709-762.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 p. [248]

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. 433 p.

Last, P.R., Scott, E.O.G. & Talbot, F.H. 1983. Fishes of Tasmania. Hobart : Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority 563 pp. figs [381]

May, J.L. & J.G.H. Maxwell. 1986. Trawl fish from temperate waters of Australia. CSIRO Division of Fisheries Research, Tasmania. 492 p.

Neira, F.J., A.G. Miskiewicz & T. Trnski. 1998. Larvae of temperate Australian fishes: laboratory guide for larval fish identification. University of Western Australia Press. 474 p.

Smith, W.L. & W.C. Wheeler. 2006. Venom evolution widespread in fishes: a phylogenetic rode map for the bioprospecting of piscine venoms. J. Hered. 97(3): 206-217.

Steene, R.C. 1978. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World. Australia. Sydney : A.H. & A.W. Reed Vol. 1 144 pp. 216 figs.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37366001

Biology:Cleaner fish

Danger:Venomous fin spines

Depth:0-85 m

Habitat:Rocky reef, kelp

Max Size:30 cm


Species Maps

CAAB distribution map