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Craterocephalus eyresii (Family Atherinidae)

Desert Hardyhead


The Desert Hardyhead is found in and around lakes Eyre, Frome and Torrens in northern South Australia (SA).


The Desert Hardyhead is a small elongate fish that grows to 100 mm. They are usually silvery in colour. They are difficult to distinguish relative to other Craterocephalus species. Hardyheads can be distinguished from most other fishes by their elongate shape, pointed head and slightly iridescent mid-lateral band. This species had a confused taxonomic history and most of published literature on C. eyresii is based on other species that were later described as separate species.

Ecology/Way of Life:

The Desert Hardyhead inhabits a range of waterbodies ranging from small temporary and semi-permanent pools in creeks, large inland lakes (when water is present), bore drains and springs. They lead a precarious existence as most of the places they live may dry, or they may disappear from more permanent habitats such as springs for no obvious reason. They migrate during flooding to recolonise habitats that have dried. Little is known of their biology. The Desert Hardhead probably eat algae and small invertebrates. They have broad physiological tolerances and they can probably tolerate temperatures up to 40°C and salinities up to 150 ppt (almost five times the salinity of sea water). This is the one of the highest salinity tolerances of any Australian freshwater fish, and one of the highest in the world.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

The Desert Hardyhead is not commonly kept in aquariums mostly due to the difficulty in obtaining them and their plain markings. They make good pets though and can be bred in captivity. They are not formally listed as threatened due to their moderately widespread range and abundance. Additional threats could come from the presence and further range expansion / introduction of exotic fishes such as Gambusia holbrooki (Damnbusia), which may prey upon and compete with the Desert Hardyhead.

Other Comments:

Craterocephalus eyresii was named by Steindachner in 1884. The genus name is based on Greek, cratero menaing strong or sturdy; cephalus meaning head. The species is named eyresii after the expedition that collected the first specimens.

Further Reading:

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

Crowley, L. E. L. M. & Ivantsoff, W. (1990). A review of species previously identified as Craterocephalus eyresii (Pisces: Atherinidae). Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. 112: 87-103.

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. pp. 90.


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

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