Coal Grunter, Hephaestus carbo (Ogilby & McCulloch 1916)

Other Names: Black Grunter, Cichlid Grunter, Gold Flecked Grunter, Round-tailed Grunter

Coal Grunter, Hephaestus carbo. Source: Neil Armstrong. License: All rights reserved


A relatively robust grunter with a truncate to slightly rounded caudal fin. Adults are dark greyish to almost black, usually with irregular golden markings that may appear as vertical bars (less apparent in larger fish). The colourful juveniles have bright yellow to orange markings, and a reddish-orange ring around the eye, and are popular with aquarists.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2017, Hephaestus carbo in Fishes of Australia, accessed 15 Jul 2024,

Coal Grunter, Hephaestus carbo (Ogilby & McCulloch 1916)

More Info


Known only from Goyder River, NT and Gulf of Carpentaria and Timor Sea drainage from Gregory River (139º10´E) to Jardine River (142º22´E), QLD; a tropical species inhabiting clear, fast flowing streams over sand, mud or rocky bottoms in temperatures above 15ºC.


Dorsal fin XI-XII, 13-14; Anal fin III, 11-12; Pectoral fin 15-16; Pelvic fin I, 5; LL 56-60; Transverse scales 9-10/1/21-23; Gill rakers 5-6+1+11-12; Vertebrae 10+17.

Body deep, 2.3-2.5 in SL, oblong to ovate, slightly compressed; dorsal profile more pronounced than ventral, straight from snout to nape, then distinctly convex to dorsal origin; ventral profile convex, evenly curved from tip of lower jaw to anus. Head length 2.85-3.0 in SL; snout length 2.95-3.15 in HL. Nostrils separated by a distance equal to one and one-half times diameter of posterior nostril. Eye width 4.7-5.6 in HL. Interorbital region smooth. Upper jaw slightly longer, length 2.7-3.1 in HL;  gape oblique; maxillary reaching to vertical through posterior nostril or barely beyond; teeth villiform, outer row much enlarged, followed by a band of teeth; no teeth on vomer or palatines. Lacrimal serrate; serrations very weak in large individuals. Preoperculum serrate; serrations largest on vertical edge. Lower opercular spine longer and stronger; not extending beyond edge of opercular lobe. Cleithrum exposed; weak serrations along posterior edge; scales on side. Post-temporal exposed. Supracleithrum exposed.

Scales finely ctenoid; lateral line continuous, smoothly curved; 0-2 scales on caudal; 17-20 predorsal scales to occiput; three rows of scales in sheath at base of dorsal fin, sheath extending across base of all dorsal rays; 4-6 rows of scales in sheath at base of anal fin, sheath extending across base of all anal rays; cheek scales in 6-7 rows.

Dorsal fin continuous, base 1.8-2.0 in SL; spinous portion low, arched; first spine very short, fifth to seventh spines longest, 2.5-2.8 in HL, all of about same length, those following decreasing very gradually to penultimate, which is same length or slightly longer than last; longest dorsal spine shorter than longest dorsal ray, 2.1-2.4 in HL; soft dorsal rounded. All anal spines short, stout, curved. First anal fin spine half as long as second, second 2.6-3.1 in HL, slightly longer than third but shorter than longest anal rays, 2.1-2.3 in HL; soft anal rounded. Pectoral fins asymmetrically pointed; fifth or sixth ray longest. Pelvic fins pointed; first ray little longer than second in large specimens; slightly filamentous in young; reaching to anus or falling slightly short. Caudal fin rounded to truncate.


To 28 cm SL.


Head, body, and fins overall uniformly blackish; body and head speckled with gold in life; eye with a surface ring of black along outer edge.


Omnivores, but feed mainly on shrimps and small crayfish, but will also prey on small fishes and insect larvae.


In the wild, spawning occurs during spring and summer. Females produce thousands of small, demersal eggs that hatch after 3-4 days. Males do not care for the developing eggs.


Although taken occasionally by recreational anglers, Coal Grunters are generally regarded as being too small.

Juveniles are a popular the aquarium industry.


Hephaestus, is the Greek god of blacksmiths. The specific name carbo is Latin for coal ("a lump of coal"), in reference to the uniform blackish coloration, which is typical of larger adults. 

Species Citation

Therapon carbo Ogilby & McCulloch, 1916, Mem. Qld Mus. 5: 116. Type locality: Gregory River, Queensland.


Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2017

Coal Grunter, Hephaestus carbo (Ogilby & McCulloch 1916)


Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

Grant, E.M. 1975. Guide to Fishes.  Brisbane : Co-ordinator-General Department 3rd Edn  640 pp. (p. 545, as Therapon carbo).

Herbert, B. W. & Peeters, J. 1995. Freshwater Fishes of Far North Queensland. Department of Primary Industries Queensland. 74 pp.

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. 73 figs.

Leggett, R. & Merrick, J.R. 1987. Australian Native Fishes for Aquariums.  Artarmon : J.R. Merrick Publications 241 pp. 142 figs.

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. & McCulloch, A.R. 1916. A revision of the Australian therapons with notes on some Papuan species. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 5: 99-126 fig. 1 pls 10-13

Unmack, P.J. 2001. Biogeography of Australian freshwater fishes. Journal of Biogeography 28: 1053-1089.

Vari, R.P. 1978. The terapon perches (Percoidei, Terapontidae) a cladistic analysis and taxonomic revision. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 159(5): 175-340 figs 1-94

Whitley, G.P. 1948. A new aquarium fish from North Queensland. The Australian Zoologist 11(3): 279-280. (as Leiopotherapon suavis).

Whitley, G.P. 1956. List of native freshwater fishes of Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 1954-55: 39-47.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37321012

Fishing:Aquarium fish (juvs)

Habitat:Clear freshwater streams

Max Size:33 cm TL


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