Pyramid butterflyfish - hemitaurichthys polylepis


Explore Queensland’s fishes through our fact sheets and image gallery, and discover the enormous diversity in their size, shape and reproduction.


Fish are aquatic vertebrates that breathe using gills, lack fully developed limbs, and swim with the aid of fins (when these are present).

They form by far the largest group of vertebrates in the world. The two main groupings that make up fishes in Australian waters are the Agnatha, or jawless fishes (hagfishes and lampreys) and Gnathostomata, which includes the classes Chondrichthyes (chimaeras, sharks and rays), Sarcopterygii (lungfish), and Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes). Fishes are found in virtually all aquatic environments, from mountain streams and desert springs, to the deep sea.

There is enormous diversity in the size, shape and mode of reproduction in fishes. Scales, fins, teeth and even eyes may variously be present or absent. Some species are found in all oceans of the world, while others may be restricted to a particular habitat within a single stream. The types of habitat fish occupy, and their tolerance to extremes in temperature, pH and salinity, also varies greatly according to species. Some are capable of living in temperatures below freezing, while others have been recorded in hot springs of more than 40º C.

Australia has a large and highly diverse range of fishes relative to the rest to the world. It is home to more than 5,000 of a total of about 32,500 species worldwide.

Common questions

“Fish” should be used for either an individual fish, or a group of a single species. “Fishes” is the correct term for multiple species.

Yes, sharks and rays are fish. They form the group known as elasmobranchs, or cartilaginous fishes. Their skeletons are composed of cartilage, whereas that of bony fishes is composed of harder and more well-calcified bone.

Australia has many unique and interesting fishes, but perhaps the most notable is the Australian Lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri, which is only found in south-east Queensland. It has a single fully functional lung, as well as gills, and primitive lobe-like fins.

The Whale Shark, Rhincodon typus, is Australia’s largest species, reaching at least 12 metres. It occurs worldwide in tropical to warm temperate seas.

Fact sheets


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