Flathead (fish)

Flathead (fish)

A flathead is one of a number of small to medium fish species with notably flat heads, distributed in membership across various genera of the family Platycephalidae. Many species are found in the Indo-Pacific, especially most parts of Australia where they are popular sport and table fish. They inhabit estuaries and the open ocean.

Anatomy and morphology

Flathead are notable for their unusual body shape, upon which their hunting strategy is based. Flathead are dorsally compressed, meaning their body is wide but flattened and very low in height. Both eyes are on the top of the flattened head, giving excellent binocular vision to attack overhead prey. The effect is somewhat similar to flounders. In contrast to flounder, however, flathead are much more elongated, the tail remains vertical, and the mouth is large, wide and symmetrical. Flathead use this body structure to hide in sand (their body colour changes to match their background), with only their eyes visible, and explode upwards and outwards to engulf small fish and prawns as they drift over the hidden flathead.


Dusky flathead are found in estuaries and coastal bays, from Cairns in Queensland to the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. They occur over sand, mud, gravel and seagrass and can inhabit estuarine waters up to the tidal limit.

Oceanic flathead species (sand flathead, tiger flathead, bar-tailed flathead) are, as named, generally located more offshore than the dusky flathead, frequenting the sandy zones around and between coastal reefs, although bar-tailed flathead occur in many esturine environments, for example the Swan/Canning River System in Perth.

Importance to humans

Fishermen catch flathead on a variety of baits and artificial lures all year round, but they are more commonly caught during summer. Only a handful of the many flathead species are regularly caught by fishermen. Most flathead species are considered excellent eating.


See also

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