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Lepidogalaxias salamandroides (Family Lepidogalaxiidae)




Salamanderfish are found only in south-west Western Australia on heathland peat flats between Blackwood and Kent rivers. (WA)


The Salamanderfish is a small elongate fish that can reach about 70 mm. The scaled body is olive with black blotches that can form a dark mid-lateral stripe extending through the eye. The belly is silvery-white and the fins are colourless. The dorsal fin is erect with 5–7 rays. The pelvic fins have elongate rays. The anal fin of males has modified rays and a scaly sheath that becomes obvious at 25 mm. The anal fin of females is unmodified, but mature females have a prominent genital papilla. The caudal fin is rounded.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Salamanderfish are remarkable for their ability to survive tough conditions. They inhabit acidic (pH 3.8–5.5) streams and pools that evaporate during summer. They burrow into the bottom sand and aestivate on the groundwater-sand interface. During this time they respire through their skin and do not feed. They have no accessory respiratory structures or tolerance for low oxygen levels, and they utilize fat reserves for energy. Urea is stored and excreted upon re-emergence. The occasional summer rainfall may cause them to surface into the newly hydrated pool. They retreat back into the sand as the pool dries out again. Releasing water from a fire truck into a dry pool caused buried Salamanderfish to re-emerge within 10 minutes. Salamanderfish show many adaptations for their burrowing life style such as a robust skull, large gaps between the vertebrae, and reduced abdominal ribs. Salamanderfish may live for several years and females grow larger than males. They have internal fertilization during which time the males are joined to the females by mucus from the scaly sheath of the male's anal fin. Spawning occurs during winter when water levels are highest. Growth and development are rapid, and juveniles are ready to aestivate by summer. Salamanderfish feed on midge larvae and planktonic crustaceans.

Preferred Image

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

Salamanderfish are listed as lower risk-near threatened due to their limited distribution and threats. The peat flats around Northcliffe have been incorporated into D'Entrecasteaux National Park. Wood chipping and burning in the adjacent karri/jarrah forest could pose a threat to the watershed. Colonisation by the invasive Gambusia holbrooki (Damnbusia) is also a possibility. Because of their limited range, any habitat or environmental destruction or pollution could affect the population, but National Park status should prevent this.

Other Comments:

Lepidogalaxias salamandroides was named by Mees in 1961. The name is derived from lepido meaning scales, galaxias, a galaxid fish and salamandroides, as it resembles a salamander.

Further Reading:

Allen, G. R. & Berra, T. M. (1989). Life history aspects of the West Australian salamanderfish, Lepidogalaxias salamandroides Mees. Records of the Western Australian Museum. 14: 253–267.

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

Berra, T. M. (1995). Lepidogalaxias salamandroides: The Salamanderfish of Western Australia.

Berra, T. M. (2001). Freshwater Fish Distribution. Academic Press, San Diego, CA. 604 p.

Berra, T. M. & Allen, G. R. (1989). Burrowing, emergence, behavior, and functional morphology of the Australian salamanderfish, Lepidogalaxias salamandroides. Fisheries. 14(5): 2–10.

Berra, T. M. & amp;Pusey, B. J. (1997). Threatened fishes of the world: Lepidogalaxias salamandroides Mees, 1961 (Lepidogalaxiidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes. 50: 201–202.

McDowall, R. M. & Pusey, B. J. (1983). Lepidogalaxias salamandroides Mees – a redescription, with natural history notes. Records of the Western Australian Museum. 11: 11–23.

Waters, J. M., Lopez, J. A. & Wallis, G. P. (2000). Molecular phylogenetics and biogeography of galaxiid fishes (Osteichthyes: Galaxiidae): dispersal, vicariance, and the position of Lepidogalaxias salamandroides. Systematic Biology. 49: 777–795.


Text: Tim M. Berra. Distribution map: Peter J. Unmack. Photographer: Gunther Schmida.

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Images and Multi-media:  
Distribution Map  
image/jpeg 59776 bytes Distribution of Lepidogalaxias salamandroides
Attached Image  
image/gif 62417 bytes Lepidogalaxias salamandroid

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