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Retropinna semoni (Family Retropinnidae)

Australian Smelt



Australian Smelt are widespread throughout south-eastern Australia, occurring from the Bundaberg region in QLD, south and east to the mouth of the Murray River in SA, as well as in the Lake Eyre Basin in Cooper Creek (SA, VIC, NSW, QLD).


The Australian Smelt is a small slender bodied fish that commonly grows to 80 mm. They have silvery coloured bodies with clear fins. In some populations the adults may be coloured orange or red. Australian Smelt can be distinguished from most other fishes by the rear position of the dorsal and anal fins and the presence of an adipose fin. They also have a relatively large eye. When freshly captured they have a cucumber like smell.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Australian Smelt are commonly found in medium sized to larger creeks and rivers as well as often being abundant in lakes. They often congregate around the margins of faster moving water. They appear to be somewhat migratory too as they are often found in large numbers immediately below barriers such as weirs and culverts. Australian Smelt are primarily omnivorous and feed on algae and small invertebrates. They typically breed during spring and summer. Australian Smelt produce a couple of hundred eggs that are laid on aquatic vegetation or the substrate. Eggs hatch in around 10 days. Growth is probably fairly rapid, with maturity being reached by 6 months of age. Australian Smelt have broad physiological tolerances.

Preferred Image

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

This species is probably most important as a source of forage for other fishes and birds. They are rarely kept in aquaria as they usually die shortly after capture. They are not formally listed due to their widespread distribution and abundance.

Other Comments:

Retropinna semoni was named by Weber in 1895. The genus name is based on Latin, retro meaning behind or backward and pinna meaning fin, in reference to the rear placement of the dorsal fin. The species name semoni is named after the German naturalist Richard Semon who collected the type 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.

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: Peter J. Unmack. Photographer: Ross Felix.

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Images and Multi-media:  
Attached Image  
image/gif 41181 bytes Retropinna semoni
Distribution Map  
image/jpeg 63187 bytes Distribution of Retropinna semoni

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