Old Wife, Enoplosus armatus Click to enlarge image
Old Wife, Enoplosus armatus at a depth of 10 m, The Docks, Jervis Bay, New South Wales, 25 April 2009. Image: David and Leanne Atkinson
© David and Leanne Atkinson

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    The species grows to 25 cm.


The derogatory standard name of the species apparently refers to the sound made when a fish is caught on hook and line. The teeth are ground together supposedly producing the sound of an 'old wife'.


The Old Wife is easily recognised by its distinctive shape and colouration. It has a deep body, and two separate dorsal fins, the second being sickle-like.

The body is silver-white to brown and has six to eight black bands of variable width.

Juveniles are more elongate than adults and have a blotched colour pattern and a white-rimmed spot on the soft dorsal fin.

The Old Wife was given its rather derogatory name in reference to the sound it makes by grinding its teeth after it is caught.

Enoplosus armatus is the only species in the family Enoplosidae.

Old Wife, Enoplosus armatus

A juvenile Old Wife caught near Ulladulla, New South Wales, March 2010.

Image: Mark McGrouther
© Australian Museum


Adults are common on coastal reefs, often seen as solitary individuals or in pairs, but will also form large schools. Juveniles live in estuaries. Regular website contributor David Muirhead however, reported that "in South Australian waters juveniles are not commonly seen in estuaries, being more common in shallow sub-tidal, low to moderate energy inshore areas including rocky reefs and seagrass beds”.

Enoplosus armatus

X-ray image of an Old Wife from the Australian Museum fish collection (AMS I.19602-005).

Image: J. King
© Australian Museum


The Old Wife is endemic to Australia. It is found in southern waters from southern Queensland to south-western Western Australia.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Click on the map for detailed information. Source: Atlas of Living Australia.

Feeding and diet

The species is carnivorous, eating primarily crustaceans and worms.

Other behaviours and adaptations

The dorsal fin spines of the Old Wife contain a venom which can cause severe pain.


  1. Glover, C.J.M. in Gomon, M.F., C.J.M. Glover & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 1994. The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. State Print, Adelaide. Pp. 992.
  2. Gomon, M.F., Bray, D. & R.H. Kuiter (Eds). 2008. The Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Reed New Holland. Pp. 928.
  3. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  4. Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia. Crawford House Press. Pp. 437.
  5. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.