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Phylum Chordata > Subphylum Vertebrata > fishes
Family Platycephalidae
updated Oct 2020
Where seen? Like a cross between a crocodile and a fish, flatheads are often encountered on our shores. In coral rubble areas as well as sandy areas and seagrass meadows. Although large, flatheads are usually overlooked as they blend in with their surroundings and are sometimes half buried in the sand.

What are flatheads?
Flatheads belong to the Family Platychephalidae. According to FishBase: the family has 18 genera and 60 species. They are found in the Indo-Pacific oceans.

Features: 6-25cm long. Some species can grow up to 1m long! The broad, flattened head gives rise to the family's scientific name: 'Platys' means flat and 'kephale' means head in Greek. The snout is long and mouth huge; with the lower jaw slightly longer than the upper jaw. The head has bony ridges and some species have spines. Some species have elaborate tentacles over the eyes. The long body is cylindrical and tapers towards the tail. Spending most of the time on the sea bottom, most species lack swim bladders.

Sometimes mistaken for other flattened fishes that live on the sea bottom. Here's more on how to tell apart fishes with flat heads.

Disappearing Act: Flatheads often lie buried in sandy or muddy bottoms, sometimes with only their eyes sticking out. Together with their camouflaged patterns, they are hard to detect.

East Coast, Nov 08

Changi, Jun 07
What do they eat? Flatheads eat small fishes, octopus and cuttlefish, crustaceans and other animals that live on the bottom. Their large, long mouths expand into a huge funnel to suck up prey. They have vomerine teeth (bumps on the roof of the mouth) to help grip and swallow prey.

Human uses: Some large species of flatheads are considered good eating. They are caught by seining and trawling. The Bartail flathead (Platycephalus indicus) is commercially cultured in Japan for the table and is also used in Chinese traditional medicine.

Some Flatheads on Singapore shores

Bartail flathead No fringe or fleshy tentacles above the eyes. Instead, a large 'eyelid' that covers most of the eye, giving it a sleepy look. Tail colourful.

Fringe-eyed flathead An elaborate golden filigree fringe over the eyeball, and above the eyes several fleshy tentacles. Tail not colourful.

Unidentified flatheads on Singapore shores
Photos of Unidentified flatheads for free download from wildsingapore flickr

Family Platycephalidae recorded for Singapore
from Wee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore.
*from Lim, Kelvin K. P. & Jeffrey K. Y. Low, 1998. A Guide to the Common Marine Fishes of Singapore.
**from WORMS
+Other additions (Singapore Biodiversity Records, etc)

  Family Platycephalidae
**Cociella crocodilus=Platycephalus crocodilus
**Cociella punctata=Platycephalus malabaricus

Cocius crocodilus=**Cociella crocodilus

**Cymbacephalus bosschei=Platycephalus bosschei
**Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus=Platycephalus nematophthalmus
(Fringe-eyed flathead)

**Grammoplites scaber=Platycephalus scaber

**Inegocia japonica=Platycephalus bataviensis=Platycephalus isacanthus

**Sunagocia carbunculus=Platycephalus cantori
**Sunagocia carbunculus=Platycephalus carbunculus

Platycephalus indicus
(Bartail flathead)

**Rogadius serratus=Platycephalus polyon
**Rogadius asper=Platycephalus pristiger
(Thorny flathead)

**Suggrundus macracanthus=Platycephalus sundaicus
**Sorsogona tuberculata=Platycephalus tuberculatus

+Thysanophrys celebicus
(Celebes flathead)


Other references

  • Koh Kwan Siong & Kelvin K. P. Lim. 18 December 2015. New record of Celebes flathead in Singapore. Singapore Biodiversity Records 2015: 207
  • W ee Y.C. and Peter K. L. Ng. 1994. A First Look at Biodiversity in Singapore. National Council on the Environment. 163pp.
  • Ng, P. K. L. & Y. C. Wee, 1994. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened Plants and Animals of Singapore. The Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore. 343 pp.
  • Allen, Gerry, 2000. Marine Fishes of South-East Asia: A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Periplus Editions. 292 pp.
  • Kuiter, Rudie H. 2002. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia: A Comprehensive Reference for Divers & Fishermen New Holland Publishers. 434pp.
  • Lieske, Ewald and Robert Myers. 2001. Coral Reef Fishes of the World Periplus Editions. 400pp.
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