Members of the family can be found naturally in coastal waters throughout the Indo-Pacific. A few species have been caught in the eastern Mediterranean, having traveled there from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal.
Platycephalids are small-to-medium-sized fishes. Most species are small, reaching an average of 10 cm in length. However, a few species in the genus Platycephalus are known to grow up to a meter in length. Their most distinctive characteristic (for which they are named for) is the flattened shape of their anteriormost body region. While the rest of their body is shaped similarly to other fishes(such as sculpins) that inhabit the areas they frequent, their heads are triangularly-shaped and dorso-ventrally depressed, giving them the shape of a trowel or an artist's spatula. Their eyes are situated on the dorsal surface of their heads, in accordance with their benthic lifestyle. They possess two complete dorsal fins, the first one supported by six-to-nine strong spines.
Members of the family Platycephalidae are mostly marine. They are demersal fishes, often resting directly on the seabed, sometimes partially-buried in sand or mud. They can be found in a wide range of depths, ranging from depths of 10 meters to the edge of the continental shelf at depths of almost a third of a kilometer.
Flatheads are highly carnivorous, feeding on small fishes and crustaceans. They lie in wait buried by sand, with only their eyes poking out from the substrate. When prospective prey walks or swims in proximity to the platycephalid's head, the flathead strikes rapidly, quickly engulfing the prey in its large mouth.
There are active commercial fisheries geared towards members of the family, especially in eastern countries. In Japan, some species are the subject of experimental aquaculture programs. Platycephalids are occasionally caught on rod and line and the larger species are considered game fish.
The name of the family is derived from the Greek words 'platy', meaning flat, and 'kephale/cephale' for head. Essentially, Platycephalidae is Greek for "flat head".