The Coal Grunter only occurs in northern Australia. In Queensland they occur in some, but not all rivers on Cape York. On the east coast they occur north of the Lockhart River. On the west coast they occur in rivers north of the Archer River but are also known from the upper tributaries of the Mitchell River. In the Northern Territory they are known from the Goyder River west to the Mary River (QLD, NT).
The Coal Grunter commonly grows to about 250 mm total length and about 500 g. They are a rather stout perch-like fish with large shoulders and body and a smallish head. Juvenile fish are quite colourful having a black or dark grey body and fins with yellow to orange speckles, patches and splotches over the body. The orange to red eye-ring is quite noticeable and the eye is large for this family of fish. Colour patterns are variable although there is no difference in colour between the sexes. The yellow and black markings may give the impression of vertical or horizontal stripes. Larger and older specimens tend to have less yellow, giving the impression of a much darker fish.
Ecology/Way of Life:
The Coal Grunter prefers to live in rivers with flowing waters where the substrate is sandy or rocky, although they can be found in other areas. The Coal Grunter is carnivores, they eat mostly shrimps and small crayfishes, but will also eat small fishes and insect larvae. Little is known about the breeding biology in the wild. In captivity they have been induced to breed using environmental manipulation and hormones. Spawning occurs in spring and summer when water temperatures exceed 24°C. Females produce thousands of small eggs that sink to the bottom. The eggs hatch in 3 to 4 days. There is no parental care for these eggs.
Interaction with Humans/Threats:
The Coal Grunter is occasionally captured and eaten by anglers but their smaller size means they are not usually sought. They are fairly abundant in suitable habitats and because of their wide distribution are not considered threatened. They are sought after aquarium pets because individuals can become very tame and entertaining.
Hephaestus carbo was named by Ogilby and McCulloch in 1916. The name is based on the Greek words Hephaestus meaning Greek god of fire and carbo from coal referring to the colour.
Allen, G. R., Midgley, S. H. & Allen, M. (2002). Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum. Perth. 394pp.
Herbert, B. W. & Peeters, J. (1995). Freshwater Fishes of Far North Queensland. Department of Primary Industries Queensland. 74pp.
Text: Rob Wager & Peter J. Unmack. Distribution map: Peter J. Unmack. Photographer: Neil Armstrong.
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