Animal Species:Spiny Gurnard, Lepidotrigla papilio (Cuvier, 1829)

The Spiny Gurnard has an ocellus on the first dorsal fin and three detached and thickened lower pectoral fin rays. The species is endemic to Australia.

Standard Common Name

Spiny Gurnard

Alternative Name/s

Butterfly Gurnard, Eastern Spiny Gurnard, Southern Spiny Gurnard


The Spiny Gurnard has a an ocellus on the first dorsal fin and three detached and thickened lower pectoral fin rays. Enlarged spiny scales run along the lateral line and along the bases of the two dorsal fins.

Size range

The species grows to 20 cm in length.


The Spiny Gurnard is endemic to Australia. It occurs in southern temperate marine waters from central New South Wales to south-western Western Australia.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums.  Source: Atlas of Living Australia.

Lepidotrigla papilio

Distribution by collection data

Ozcam map of Spiny Gurnard specimens in the Australian Museums.

What does this mean?


It lives mostly in sand and rubble areas in estuaries and coastal reefs.

Other behaviours and adaptations

When disturbed, the species often spreads its blue-margined pectoral fins. This behaviour is likely to startle potential predators.

Divers regularly see this species 'walking' along the bottom raised on the three detached lower rays of both pectoral fins.  Click on the link in rling's comment (17 August 2010) below to watch a short video.



What does this mean?


  1. Gomon, M.F. in Gomon, M.F, Glover, C.J.M. & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 1994. The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. Pp. 992.
  2. Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. In Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia. parts 1-3, pages 1-2178.
  3. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  4. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433. (as Lepidotrigla pleuracanthica).
  5. Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Gary Allen. Pp. 437. (as Lepidotrigla pleuracanthica).

Mark McGrouther , Collection Manager, Ichthyology
Last Updated:

Tags fish, ichthyology, spiny gurnard, Lepidotrigla papilio, sandy bottom, Triglidae, endemic to Australia, spiny scales, 10 cm - 30 cm, temperate water, marine, sand, rubble, estuaries, coral reef,


Sascha Schulz - 5.08 PM, 17 August 2010

Nice one Richard!

Mark McGrouther - 5.08 PM, 17 August 2010

Great video, thank you for submitting it.  As you say, it really shows the fish 'walking' on its three lower pectoral fin rays.  I think the fish was very considerate splaying all its fins for you.  I have made a notation under the Behaviours heading above pointing users to your video.  Thanks again.

rling - 12.08 PM, 17 August 2010
Video of the Spiny Gurnard "walking" on its "legs"... Bare Island, Botany Bay, 28/2/2009.

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