Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus fuliginosus (Macleay 1883)

Other Names: Black Bream, Blubberlips, Northern Grunter, Purple Grunter

Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus fuliginosus. Source: Neil Armstrong. License: All rights reserved

A fairly large brownish-grey to sooty-black grunter with darker scale margins. Individuals may have golden blotches on the sides. Juveniles have a dark blotch on the anal and soft dorsal fins. The Sooty Grunter has a discontinuous lip fold on the underside of the lower jaw. Some large individuals develop fleshy 'blubbery' lips.

Video of Sooty Grunters in the catchment of the South Alligator River in Kakadu National Park. Archerfish (Toxotes chatareus) can also be seen.

Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2022, Hephaestus fuliginosus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 27 May 2024,

Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus fuliginosus (Macleay 1883)

More Info


Known only from northern Australia, from the Daly River, Northern Territory, to the upper Burdekin River, Queensland. Inhabits large flowing freshwater streams mostly in rapidly flowing waters particularly along rocky bottoms with sparse aquatic plant cover. The species tolerates acidic conditions to a pH of 4.0 and temperatures between 12 and 34ºC.


Dorsal fin XI-XII, 12-14; Anal fin III, 8-10; Pectoral fin 15-17; Pelvic fin I, 5; Lateral line scales 43-51; Transverse scales 7-10/1/14-17; Gill rakers  6-9+1+14-17; Vertebrae 10+15.

Body moderately deep, 2.4-2.9 in SL, oblong to ovate, compressed; dorsal profile more pronounced than ventral, straight from tip of snout to nape, then convex to origin of dorsal fin, convex with age; ventral profile nearly straight to pelvic insertion, straight from insertion to anus. Head length 2.6-3.1 in SL. Snout elongate; 2.6-3.1 in HL. Nostrils separated by a distance ranging from one to two diameters of posterior nostril. Eye width 3.5-5.6 in HL. Jaws equal or with upper slightly longer than lower, 3.3-3.45 in HL; gape oblique; lips fleshy; maxillary reaching to vertical through anterior edge of eye in young, falling short with age and reaching to vertical through posterior nostril; teeth conic, slightly recurved, in bands, outer row enlarged’ no teeth on vomer or palatines. Lacrimal serrate; serrations larger in juveniles. Preoperculum serrate; serrations larger on angle. Lower opercular spine stronger and longer; not extending beyond edge of opercular lobe. Posttemporal exposed and serrate posteriorly. Cleithrum exposed; serrate posteriorly, scales on side. Supracleithrum exposed.

Scales finely ctenoid; lateral line continuous, smoothly curved; 8-10 scales above lateral line; 6-9 cheek scales; 13-17 predorsal scales to occiput; 2-3 rows of scales in sheath at base of dorsal fin, sheath extending to last dorsal ray; 3-4 rows of scales in sheath at base of anal fin; sheath extending to fifth to last anal ray.

Dorsal fin continuous, base 1.85-2.5 in SL; spinous portion arched; first spine short; fifth to seventh longest, 2.1-3.1 in HL, those following decreasing in length gradually to penultimate, which is same length or slightly longer than last; longest dorsal rays longer than longest dorsal spines in adults, longest ray 1.7-2.4 in HL, differences less pronounced or spines longer than rays in some small individuals; soft dorsal rounded. Spinous anal with second spine longest, 2.5-3.2 in HL, relatively longer in juveniles; longest anal spine shorter than longest rays; longest anal ray 1.8-1.9 in HL; soft anal rounded. Pectoral fins asymmetrically pointed; fifth ray longest. Pelvic fins pointed; first ray longest, reaching nearly to anus in young, falling short with age. Caudal fin emarginate.

The species is variable in overall head shape, lip form and coloration both ontogenetically and geographically.The variation in lip size ranges from the slightly fleshy lips of some individuals to what are termed "blubber lips" in which the lips form a fleshy pad.


To 45 cm, commonly to 25 cm SL.


Body uniform purplish brown to blackish, each scale more heavily pigmented along edge; sides paler ventrally. Head uniformly dark above, paler below. Dorsal fin spines whitish, membranes brownish with a lighter edge; soft dorsal dusky with a basal blotch and a paler edge. Spinous and soft anal fin dusky, with a paler edge; soft anal with a basal blotch. Caudal fin dusky with a paler edge in some. Pectoral fins greyish with a dark bar across the base. Pelvic fins dusky.


Omnivore - feeds on frogs, various invertebrates, algae and other plant material including roots and fruits.


Oviparous (egg layers) producing demersal eggs that are deposited on the substrate. Spawning occurs in summer in response to rising water levels following periods of high rainfall.  Eggs are small and adhesive.


A popular recreational fish.


Records of this species from New Guinea are based on an undescribed species (Allen et al. 2008)


The name, fuliginosus, from the Latin word fuligo (= soot), in reference to the sooty coloration of this species.

Species Citation

Therapon fuliginosus Macleay, 1883, Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. (1)8(2): 201. Type locality: Upper Burdekin River, Queensland.


Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Sooty Grunter, Hephaestus fuliginosus (Macleay 1883)


Allan, R. 2002. Australian Fish and How to Catch Them. Sydney : New Holland Publishers (Australia) 394 pp.

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

Allen, G.R., Storey, A.W. & Yarrao, M. 2008. Freshwater Fishes of the Fly River Papua New Guinea. Tabubil, Papua New Guinea : Ok Tedi Mining 216 pp.

Crook, D.A., Keller, K., Adair, B.J., et al. 2021. Use of radiotelemetry to quantify diel habitat preferences and minimum environmental flow requirements of a tropical riverine fish (Sooty grunter Hephaestus fuliginosus). Ecohydrology 14: e2290.

Ebner, B. & Brooks, S. 2019. Hephaestus fuliginosus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T122906480A123382306. Accessed on 24 September 2022.

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

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

Jackson, S., Finn, M. & Featherston, P. 2012. Aquatic resource use by Indigenous Australians in two tropical river catchments: the Fitzroy River and Daly rivers. Human Ecology 40(6): 893-908.

Jamandre, B.W., Real, K. & Hughes, J. 2011. Characterisation of polymorphic microsatellite loci in Hephaestus fuliginosus and cross-amplification in closely related Hephaestus tulliensis. Conservation Genetics 3: 4 pp.

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.

Macleay, W.J. 1883. Notes on a collection of fishes from the Burdekin and Mary Rivers, Queensland. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 1 8(2): 199-213

Pusey, B.J., Kennard, M.J. & Arthington, A.H. 2004. Freshwater Fishes of North-eastern Australia. Collingwood, Victoria : CSIRO Publishing 684 pp.

Pusey, B.J., Burrows, D.W., Kennard, M.J., Perna, C.N., Unmack, P.J., Allsop, Q. & Hammer, M.P. 2017. Freshwater fishes of northern Australia. Zootaxa 4253(1): 1-104.

Stewart-Koster, B.. Olden, J.D., Kennard, M.J., Pusey, B.J., Boone, E.L., Douglas, M. & Jackson, S. 2011. Fish response to the temporal hierarchy of the natural flow regime in the Daly River, northern Australia. Journal of Fish Biology 79(6): 20.

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

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37321014

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Fishing:Recreational fish

Habitat:Freshwater streams

Max Size:45 cm SL


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