Cocotropus microps or patchwork velvetfish


Explore Queensland Museum’s extensive collection of fishes and discover some research that enhances our understanding of ichthyology.


Fishes are the most diverse of all the vertebrates. The estimated 5,000 species that occur in Australian waters are among the most diverse marine fauna of any country, and many of these species occur in Queensland. Queensland Museum fishes collection contains:

  • About 45,000 specimen lots.
  • Over 650 type specimens, including types of some of the most significant early Australian ichthyological discoveries.
  • Strengths in freshwater and estuarine fishes of northern Australia; shallow to deep-water demersal trawled species Queensland-wide; and southern Queensland reef and shore fish fauna.
  • Other important specimens include dredged fishes from a survey across the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef; reef fishes from the central Great Barrier Reef; and reef and shore fishes from the central Gulf of Carpentaria region.
  • 100% of the collection is databased, and the records are available via the Atlas of Living Australia online platform.
  • Most museum ichthyologists work on taxonomy (classification and description of new species) and biogeography (patterns of distribution). Museums house large reference collections of preserved specimens to aid in this research, and as a permanent resource for current and future generations.

Scientific study

Ichthyology is the scientific study of fishes. Included are jawless fishes (Agnatha), cartilaginous fishes (Chondrichthyes), and bony, or ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii).

Fish are classified by comparing various anatomical features and proportional measurements, and by examining characters such as fin spines, scales, teeth and gill rakers. Colouration is also important. Males, females and juveniles often exhibit different colour patterns, and variation within a species may also occur between individuals living in different habitats, or across the species’ geographic range.


Collection highlights

Queensland Museum has a regionally significant collection of about 45,000 lots of preserved fishes, skeletons, otoliths and associated genetic samples. It includes the largest collection of freshwater fishes from north-eastern Australia, and reef and shore fishes from south-east Queensland. There are also significant collections of estuarine, reef and soft-bottom trawled fishes from throughout Queensland, from depths up to about 2,000 metres.

Queensland Museum has the oldest extant (non-fossil) fish specimen in any Australian collection: a pair of dried White Shark vertebrae from a huge specimen caught in the Derwent River, Tasmania in 1830. It has the largest collection of skeletal parts and otoliths in any Australian museum. Otoliths, or fish ear bones, are valuable in aging studies, and are also used to identify fishes from archaeological deposits. Many of the species held are not represented in other collections or only poorly so. The collection has been accumulated since the late 1800s and provides a historical record of some species that occurred in various localities throughout Queensland.

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Research overview

Queensland Museum aims to improve knowledge and awareness of the amazing diversity of Australian fishes, providing information to enhance management and conservation outcomes.

Ichthyological research has focused on taxonomy, biogeography, and recruitment of fishes to artificial reefs. New genera and species of various families have been described, including Acanthuridae (unicornfishes), Aploactinidae (velvetfishes), Haemulidae (sweetlips), Pinguipedidae (sand perches), Serranidae (rockcods and basslets), Soleidae (soles), Tetrabrachiidae (anglerfishes) and Uranoscopidae (stargazers).

The museum has also participated in numerous research projects documenting fish biodiversity throughout Australia, and the results of many are available as scientific reports or regional checklists. In 2010 the museum published a checklist of the fish fauna of the Moreton Bay Marine Park, an important bioregion encompassing both subtropical and warm temperate faunas. This documented about 1,200 species, many of which were at the endpoint of their known distribution on the east coast of Australia. The reef and shore fishes of Sweers Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, were also assessed and recorded, providing one of very few accounts of the fishes from these habitat types in this region.

Colonisation studies of the ex-HMAS Brisbane wreck showed the habitat value of this artificial reef. Queensland Museum researchers documented a dramatic increase in diversity and abundance of fishes and sessile invertebrates in the first few years after scuttling. Life on the site was also found to be significantly more prolific than on nearby natural reefs.

Find out more

Did you know you don't have to come to the museum to see our collection?

Over 1 million specimens are now accessible from our biodiversity collection online for free. All you need is your device and a little bit of inspiration to explore Queensland’s cultural and natural heritage.

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