Sombre Sweetlips, Plectorhinchus unicolor (Macleay 1883)

Other Names: Arabian Sweetlips, Grey Sweetlips, Minstrel Sweetlips, Somber Blubber-lips, Somber Sweetlips, Sombre Sweet-lips, Sooty Blubber-lips

A Sombre Sweetlips, Plectorhinchus unicolor, at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Source: Anne Hoggett / License: CC BY Attribution

An olive-brown, tan, or greyish-brown sweetlips with the rear margin of the gill membrane dusky, and the underlying cleithrum bone red, and the caudal fin bright yellow in juveniles, to dull yellowish or greenish brown in adults. 
The Sombre Sweetlips was previously considered to be a synonym of Plectorhinchus schotaf, a species found in the Western Indian Ocean.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2020, Plectorhinchus unicolor in Fishes of Australia, accessed 08 Dec 2023,

Sombre Sweetlips, Plectorhinchus unicolor (Macleay 1883)

More Info


Rottnest Island north to the Kimberley, Western Australia, and the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, toat least the Tweed River, New South Wales; also Christmas Island in the eastern Indian Ocean and Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species is known from southern Japan, Taiwan, Guam, West Malaysia, Indonesia (Bali and Banyuwangi, East Java), and southern Papua New Guinea.
Inhabits coastal rocky reefs and rocky headlands with a rich growth of brown macroalgae and moderate wave action. Usually solitary or in small groups in depths of 1–10 m, Small juveniles prefer subtidal rocky reefs with moderately high wave action.


Dorsal fin XII-XIII, 17-20; Anal fin  III, 6-8; all dorsal- and anal-fin rays branched, last to base; Pectoral fin 16–18, first ray rudimentary, second and lowermost rays unbranched, others branched; Pelvic fin I, 5, all rays branched; Caudal fin (principal rays) 9 + 8 = 17, uppermost and lowermost rays unbranched; Lateral-line scales 54–57, plus about 13 smaller tubed scales on anterior third of caudal-fin base; Scales above lateral line to base of first dorsal-fin spine 12–13; Scales below lateral line to first anal-fin spine 19–21; Circumpeduncular scales 31–32; Gill rakers on first arch 10–12 + 16–19 = 27–31; Branchiostegal rays 7; Vertebrae 11 + 16 = 27.
Pelvic fins usually reaching slightly short of anus; nostrils large, posterior nostril 0.9–1.5 % SL, 0.9–1.8 times in distance from posterior nostril to eye. 

Similar Species

The similar Blue Bastard, Plectorhinchus caeruleonothus, differs in having a silver-grey to bluish-grey body in life and slate-grey on death, versus bronze, olive-brown, or tan in life and grey-brown on death in the Sombre Sweetlips, a non-contrasting rear gill membrane and underlying bone, vs. opercular margin dusky and the underlying cleithrum red in P. unicolor., a uniformly grey caudal fin, vs. a dull yellowish to greenish brown caudal fin in P. unicolor that is bright yellow in juveniles. Juvenile Sombre Sweetlips have the with head, body and caudal fin uniformly coloured, without stripes, spots, or other distinctive markings, vs. a distinctive pattern of pale longitudinal stripes on a dark background along the head and body, and alternating pale and dark oblique stripes on the caudal fin, gradually transforming into spots in subadults in the Blue Bastard. 
The tow species also differ in gill raker counts, scales counts, and in proportional measurements.

Species Citation

Diagramma unicolor Macleay 1883, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. 1 8(2): 261. Type locality: China Straits, New Guinea.


Bray, D.J. 2020


Atlas of Living Australia

Sombre Sweetlips, Plectorhinchus unicolor (Macleay 1883)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls. (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A field guide for anglers and divers. Perth, WA : Western Australian Museum vi 201 pp., 70 pls. (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Coleman, N. 1981. Australian Sea Fishes North of 30°S. Lane Cove, NSW : Doubleday Australia Pty Ltd 297 pp.

Grant, E.M. 1975. Guide to Fishes. Brisbane : Queensland Government, Co-ordinator General’s Department 640 pp.

Grant, E.M. 1991. Fishes of Australia. Brisbane : EM Grant Pty Ltd 480 pp. (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Grant, E.M. 2002. Guide to Fishes. Redcliffe : EM Grant Pty Ltd 880 pp.

Hutchins, B. 2004. Fishes of the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 66: 343–398.

Hutchins, J.B. 1994. A survey of the nearshore reef fish fauna of Western Australia's west and south coasts — The Leeuwin Province. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 46: 1-66 figs 1-6 (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Hutchins, J.B. 2001. Biodiversity of shallow reef fish assemblages in Western Australia using a rapid censusing technique. Records of the Western Australian Museum 20: 247-270.

Hutchins, J.B. 2003. Checklist of marine fishes of the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia. pp. 453-478 in Wells, F.E., Walker, D.I., & Jones, D.S. (eds). Proceedings of the Eleventh International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Dampier, Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum.

Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3) (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Johnson, J.W. & Worthington Wilmer, J. 2015. Plectorhinchus caeruleonothus, a new species of sweetlips (Perciformes: Haemulidae) from northern Australia and the resurrection of P. unicolor (Macleay, 1883), species previously confused with P. schotaf (Forsskål, 1775). Zootaxa 3985(4): 491-522.

Macleay, W.J. 1883. Contribution to the knowledge of the fishes of New Guinea. No. 4. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 8(2): 252-280.

Marshall, T.C. 1964. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coastal Waters of Queensland. Sydney : Angus & Robertson 566 pp. 136 pls.

McKay, R.J. 2001. Haemulidae. pp. 2961-2989 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. (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp. figs. (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs.

Russell, B.C. 1983. Annotated checklist of the coral reef fishes in the Capricorn-Bunker group, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Special Publication Series 1: 1-184 figs 1-2 (as Plectorhinchus schotaf)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37350013

Depth:1-36 m

Fishing:Recreational fish

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:64 cm SL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map