Blackbanded Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia nigrans (Richardson 1843)

Other Names: Black Striped Rainbow Fish, Black-banded Jewelfish, Black-banded Jewel-fish, Black-banded Rainbow Fish, Black-banded Rainbowfish, Black-striped Rainbowfish, Common Freshwater Sunfish, Mauve Rainbow-fish, Spotted Sunfish, Yalgurnda

A Blackbanded Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia nigrans, from George Creek, south of Darwin, Northern Territory. Source: Dave Wilson / License: All rights reserved


A slender bluish-lavender rainbowfish with a very distinctive dark midlateral stripe, a narrow red stripe on the belly to the front part of the tail, a bright reddish spot on the gill cover and pale orange pectoral fins.

Blackbanded Rainbowfish in a tributary of the South Alligator River in Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory.

Cite this page as:
Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray, Melanotaenia nigrans in Fishes of Australia, accessed 29 May 2020,

Blackbanded Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia nigrans (Richardson 1843)

More Info


Known only from two isolated populations in NT in coastal streams from Daly River, eastwards across Arnhem Land to Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and a Cape York, QLD population known from Prince of Wales Island and a few small tributaries of the Jardine River.

Occurs in a variety of freshwater habitats including rainforest streams, lily lagoons and small, swampy creeks. Also found in larger streams and rivers in areas of low flow such as backwaters or along the shoreline.


Meristic features: Dorsal-fin spines/rays IV-VI; I, 8-11; Anal-fin rays I, 15-16; Pectoral-fin rays 12-14; Pelvic-fin spines/rays I, 5.
Body laterally compressed, relatively deep, greatest body depth (adults > 50 mm SL): males 25.0-33.3,females 25.0-28.0; head length 24.3-27.1; snout length 7.1-8.3; eye diameter 7.2-10.5; 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 10-12; vertical scale rows 33 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 8.5 cm SL, commonly to 6cm.


Grey-brown with bluish tinges dorsally, whitish ventrally with a prominent, broad black mid-lateral stripe extending though the eyes and a pinkish spot on opercle. During the breeding period males may have a bright yellow caudal fin, orange to mauve on the top of the head and the spot on the opercle intensifies. Mature males generally have a reddish second dorsal fin and black margins on the anal fin.


Omnivorous feeding on aquatic and terrestrial insects and filamentous green algae.


Reproduction occurs throughout the year. Oviparous pair spawners, 50-70 eggs per spawning are deposited into aquatic vegetation.
Eggs spherical with adhesive filaments
Larvae hatch after around 6-7 days and are well developed with a reduced yolk sac and fully formed mouth and pectoral fins. Feeding commences within 24 hours of hatching.

Species Citation

Atherina nigrans Richardson, 1843, Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. 1 11(69): 180. Type locality: Port Essington, NT.


Martin F. Gomon & Dianne J. Bray


Names list:

Melanotaenia nigrans (Richardson, 1843)

Atherina nigrans Richardson, 1843

Zantecla pusilla Castelnau, 1873

Blackbanded Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia nigrans (Richardson 1843)


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

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

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

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Brown, C. & A.-L. Bibost. 2014. Laterality is linked to personality in the black-lined rainbowfish, Melanotaenia nigrans. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00265-014-1712-0

Grant, E.M. 2002. Guide to Fishes.  Redcliffe : E.M. Grant Pty. Limited 9th Edn  880 pp.

Herbert B.W., J.A. Peeters, P.A. Graham & A.E. Hogan. 1995. Freshwater Fish and Aquatic Habitat Survey of Cape York Peninsula. (Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy) Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane.

Lake, J.S. 1978. Australian Freshwater Fishes. Melbourne : Thomas Nelson 160 pp. 140 figs.

Larson, H.K. & Martin, K.C. 1990. Freshwater Fishes of the Northern Territory. Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences Handbook Series Number 1.  Darwin : Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences 102 pp.

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.

Morgan D., M. Sefton, D. Cheinmora, G. Charles & P. Nulgit. 2005. Fishes of the King Edward and Carson Rivers, Kawii manya Mararran - nûngka, with the Belaa and Ngarinyin names for the fish. Report to Land and Water Australia.

Richardson, J. 1843. Contributions to the ichthyology of Australia. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 1 11(69): 169-182.

Whitehead, P.J.P., G.J. Nelson & T. Wongratana, 1988. FAO Species Catalogue. Vol. 7. Clupeoid fishes of the world (Suborder Clupeoidei). An annotated and illustrated catalogue of the herrings, sardines, pilchards, sprats, shads, anchovies and wolf-herrings. FAO Fish. Synop. 125(7/2): 305-579. Rome: FAO.

Whitley, G.P. 1960. Fresh water fishes of Australia. 18. Finchat February: 12-13, 25

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37245010

Fishing:Popular aquarium fish


Max Size:8.5 cm SL


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