Australian Biological Resources Study

Species Bank Home

Melanotaenia splendida tatei (Family Melanotaeniidae)

Desert Rainbowfish


Desert Rainbowfish are found throughout the Lake Eyre Basin, Barkley Tablelands, Bulloo River and the north-western portion of the Murray-Darling Basin (NSW, QLD, NT, SA).


Desert Rainbowfish grow to 80 mm. Colour varies depending upon the mood of the fish and the water turbidity. Two colour forms exist, in one form males have a purple body with yellow-green fins, with dark flecks and a dark border. The other form has a blue-green body with similar colouration on their fins. During spawning the belly of the male turns bright pink. Females and juveniles have plain silvery bodies with clean fins. Rainbowfishes can be recognised by their thin deep body and bright colours (usually). Desert Rainbowfish are not easily identified relative to several other rainbowfish species and subspecies.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Desert Rainbowfish can be found in most waterholes in small and large desert creeks and rivers. Little is known of their ecology. They are omnivorous and will consume algae, aquatic plants and various invertebrates. Spawning typically takes place during the warmer months. Desert rainbowfish lay 10's of eggs daily which hatch in around seven days. Spawning more commonly occurs in the morning with eggs being scattered over vegetation or wood debris. They probably mature within a few months at around 30–50 mm. They have broad physiological tolerances.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

Desert Rainbowfish make excellent aquarium fishes, but are rarely kept due to the difficulty in obtaining them. Most people tend to keep their more colourful relatives. They have no conservation listing due to their widespread occurrence. One existing threat comes from the presence and further range expansion / introduction of exotic fishes such as Gambusia holbrooki (Damnbusia) that may prey upon and compete with the Desert Rainbowfish.

Other Comments:

Melanotaenia splendida tatei was named by Zietz in 1896. The name is based on Greek, melano meaning black; taenia meaning band; splendida meaning bright or glistening and tetei after Ralph Tate, a natural historian who was on the 1894 Horn Expedition that first collected this species.

Further Reading:

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

Leggett, R. & Merrick, J. R. (1987). Australian Native Fishes for Aquariums. J. R. Merrick Publications. Sydney. 245pp.

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 & Photographer: Peter J. Unmack.

Sponsorship welcomed:

Please Contact ABRS if you wish to discuss sponsoring this or other pages.


Distribution Map

Attached Images

Return to Species Bank home



   Links to another web site
   Opens a pop-up window