Sahul Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia sahulensis Hammer, Allen, Martin, Adams & Unmack 2019

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

A small silvery-white to greyish-brown rainbowfish, with 7-8 black stripes along  a white lower half of the body, a brownish-grey head, greyish lips greyish sometimes with hint of yellow or orange, a small red to orange 'spot' on the upper gill cover and a silver iris. The dorsal and anal fins are tricolored, with a broad dark submarginal band separating a narrow white to orange or red fin margin, and a an area of yellow to orange area below the dark band.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Melanotaenia sahulensis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 02 Mar 2024,

Sahul Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia sahulensis Hammer, Allen, Martin, Adams & Unmack 2019

More Info


North-east Cape York Peninsula and Torres Strait, Australia: northern tip and east coast of Cape York from the Jardine River, Bamaga area, Shelburne Bay area and south to Scrubby Creek, and Moa Island, Torres Strait, Queensland. Elsewhere the species occurs in southern central New Guinea (West Papua and Papua New Guinea), from the Pahoturi to Bensbach river systems including the mid-Fly River, and the Merauke area, West Papua, Indonesia.
Inhabits floodplain systems and small swampy creeks including dune lakes, with dense cover. In Australia, the habitat generally consists of small streams, Pandanus swamp and  lily lagoons, most frequently in acid waters. During non-flood periods the water is typically clear with ample cover in the form of either log debris or aquatic vegetation.


Lateral scales 30–34.
Male and female fin morphology conspicuously different; adpressed first dorsal fin extending beyond base of second dorsalfin spine in male and to base of spine in female; adpressed posterior rays of dorsal and anal fins extend well beyond middle of caudal peduncle in male and about midway in female; first soft anal ray of both sexes longer than remaining rays in female, but longest rays at posterior end of fin in male.


Side of body with series of 7–8, well-contrasted dark stripes (blackish to dark brown in life; males usually with noticeable dark markings on second dorsal fin. Breeding males display more intense coloration, with more prominent body stripes and brighter fins.


A popular aquarium fish sourced from captive bred populations.


This species had been misidentified as Melanotaenia maccullochi in most publications prior to 2019.

Similar Species

The silvery-grey body colour, distinct, full body stripes as adults, and the three-coloured dorsal and anal fins with a braos black submarginal band separates the Sahul Rainbowfish from McCulloch's Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia maccullochi, and the Little Rainbowfish, M. wilsoni.


The species is named sahulensis in reference to the Pleistocene-era continent Sahul which comprised the land masses of Australia and New Guinea connected under low sea-level and is reflected in the modern distribution of the species. It is also a tribute to the Australian and New Guinea Fishes Association (which maintains the journal Fishes of Sahul) that has done much to promote and document native fishes of the region, especially rainbowfishes.

Species Citation

Melanotaenia sahulensis Hammer, Allen, Martin, Adams & Unmack 2019, Zootaxa 4701 (3): 218, figs 5 & 7. Type locality: Pahoturi River, Sigabadu (09° 14.75ʹS, 142° 44.05ʹE), <1.0 m.


Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Sahul Rainbowfish, Melanotaenia sahulensis Hammer, Allen, Martin, Adams & Unmack 2019


Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Neptune, New Jersey : T.F.H. Publications 240 pp., 63 pls. (as Melanotaenia maccullochi in part)

Hammer, M. 2019. One becomes three: research behind the naming of two new dwarf rainbowfishes in the Melanotaenia maccullochi species complex. Fishes of Sahul 33(4): 1492-1500.

Hammer, M., Allen, G.R. & Kadarusman. 2020. Melanotaenia sahulensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T163435979A163435986. Downloaded on 08 December 2021.

Hammer, M.P., Allen, G.R., Martin, K.C., Adams, M. & Unmack, P.J. 2019. Two new species of dwarf rainbowfishes (Atheriniformes: Melanotaeniidae) from northern Australia and southern New Guinea. Zootaxa 4701(3)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37245028

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Fishing:Aquarium fish

Habitat:Freshwater streams

Max Size:5.3 cm SL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map