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Nematalosa erebi (Family Clupeidae)

Bony Bream, Bony Herring


Bony Bream are the second most widespread freshwater fish in Australia. They occur from around Brisbane north and west to the Pilbara region as well as in the Lake Eyre Basin, Barkley Tablelands and the Murray-Darling Basin. (SA, VIC, NSW, QLD, NT, WA).


The Bony Bream is a medium size deep bodied fish that commonly grows to 200 mm, but may reach 470 mm. They are silvery coloured with a greenish or greyish tinge across their backs. Adults will sometimes also have some red colouration on their snout and belly. Their fins are clear. Bony bream can be distinguished from most other fishes by the elongated last ray of their dorsal fin and the distinctive keel like structure formed by the scales on the bottom edge of the belly.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Bony Bream inhabit a variety of waterbodies from small ephemeral desert creeks, waterholes and lakes, to large tropical rivers. Bony Bream adults are primarily herbivorous and feed upon detritis while juveniles are omnivorous and eat algae, aquatic plants and small invertebrates. They typically breed during spring and summer. Bony Bream produce several hundred thousand buoyant eggs. Little is known of their early development. Offspring mature in around a year at 70 mm. Bony Bream often have winter die offs probably due initially to stress caused by low temperatures followed by fungal and/or bacterial infections. Bony Bream have broad physiological tolerances; they will survive in temperatures from 9–38°C and salinities close to that of sea water.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

This species is probably most important as a source of forage for other fishes and birds. It is not typically eaten by people due to its bony nature. They are rarely taken by anglers as they are not attracted to bait, nor are they kept in aquaria as they usually die shortly after capture. They are not formally listed due to their widespread distribution and abundance. However, they have declined in parts of their southern range due to cold water releases from dams.

Other Comments:

Nematalosa erebi was named by Gunther in 1868.

Further Reading:

Allen, G. R., Midgley, S. H. & Allen, M. (2002). Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum. Perth. 394pp.

Merrick, J. R. & Schmida, G. E. (1984). Australian Freshwater Fishes: Biology and Management. Griffith Press Ltd. 409pp.

Unmack, P. J. (2003). Australian Desert Fishes.

Wager, R. & Unmack, P. J. (2000). Fishes of the Lake Eyre Catchment of Central Australia. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane. 90pp.


Text: Peter J. Unmack & Rob Wager. Distribution map: Peter J. Unmack. Photographer: Ross Felix.

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