Common galaxias

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Common galaxias
long thin fish with many small spots
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Osmeriformes
Family: Galaxiidae
Subfamily: Galaxiinae
Genus: Galaxias
Species: G. maculatus
Binomial name
Galaxias maculatus
(Jenyns, 1842)

Galaxias usitatus McDowall, 1967[2]
Galaxias maculatus Stokell, 1966[3]
Galaxias parrishi Stokell, 1964[3]
Galaxias variegatus Lahille, 1923[2]
Galaxias nebulosa Macleay, 1881[3]
Galaxias coppingeri Günther, 1881[2]
Galaxias cylindricus Castelnau, 1872[3]
Galaxias delicatulus Castelnau, 1872[3]
Galaxias amaenus Castelnau, 1872[3]
Galaxias obtusus Klunzinger, 1872[3]
Galaxias versicolor Castelnau, 1872[3]
Galaxias waterhousei Krefft, 1868[3]
Galaxias waterhousei Kreft, 1868[3]
Galaxias waterhousi Krefft, 1868[3]
Galaxias pseudoscriba McCoy, 1867[3]
Mesites forsteri Kner, 1867[2]
Galaxias krefftii Günther, 1866[3]
Galaxias punctatus Günther, 1866[3]
Mesites gracillimus Canestrini, 1864[2]
Galaxias minutus Philippi, 1858[2]
Galaxias punctulatus Philippi, 1858[2]
Galaxias scriba Valenciennes, 1846[3]
Mesites maculatus Jenyns, 1842[4]
Mesites alpinus Jenyns, 1842[2]
Galaxias alpinus (Jenyns, 1842)[2]
Mesites attenuatus Jenyns, 1842[3]

The common galaxias (Galaxias maculatus) or inanga (from the Māori īnanga) is a very widespread Southern Hemisphere fish in the family Galaxiidae. It is slim, narrow fish with a forked tail and a mottled, spotty pattern, typically about 10 cm (4 in) long when fully grown. It lives in fresh water, but spawns at river mouths and spends the first six months of its life at sea, returning en masse in spring. Its vernacular names include cowfish, jollytail, common jollytail, eel gudgeon, inaka, native trout, pulangi, slippery tarki, spotted minnow and whitebait.


Common galaxias have iridescent silver eyes, undersides, and gill covers, and some have an iridescent green stripe along the top of their bodies which can be intermittently seen as they swim. Their specific name maculatus ("spotted") comes from the pattern of dark-mottled, leopard-like spots on an olive-brown background along their upper bodies.[5] This pattern ranges from very subtle to quite bold. Common galaxias have slightly forked tails, unlike other most other galaxiids, which have square tails. Adults typically range from 8–11 cm (3.1–4.3 in) in length,[6] with an average of 10 cm (4 in).[7] The maximum reported length 19 cm (7.5 in).[7]

They are commonly found in small schools or shoals in slow-moving water, but can be more solitary in swifter streams.[5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Common galaxias are one of the most widely distributed freshwater fish in the world. They inhabit Chile (35–55°S), Patagonia, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, some Pacific Islands such as New Caledonia, New Zealand, and coastal streams in southeastern Australia, Tasmania, and southwest Western Australia.

Adults are mainly found in still or slow-moving water in the lower parts of coastal streams and rivers, or around the edges of lagoons; they can tolerate a wide range of natural conditions. If oxygen levels are low as a result of eutrophication, they can jump out of the water (emerse) and take up oxygen through their skin as a last resort.[8][9] They need access to riparian vegetation for spawning, and usually live in river systems with access to the sea, as their larval stage is marine. They tend to be found in lower-elevation streams as unlike other species of Galaxias they cannot climb past waterfalls.[6]

Common galaxias can become land-locked (such as in five lakes in Northland, New Zealand), feeding and breeding in large beds of reeds.[6]

Life history[edit]

G. maculatus eggs laid in streamside vegetation, New Zealand
The milky white colour of the water is from male sperm following spawning.

This species is usually considered amphidromous, a particular type of diadromy meaning that reproduction occurs in fresh water and larval growth occurs in the sea.[10]


Adult fish typically reach sexual maturity at one year and spawning is triggered by changes in day length and temperature. Unless landlocked within a lake, the common galaxias spawns mainly in autumn during spring tides in the tidally influenced reaches of rivers and streams [11] but spawning in winter and spring has occurred.[12] The eggs are laid en masse amongst flooded riparian vegetation by females. Male fish then release sperm into the water and the eggs are fertilised externally.

This type of spawning is called polygynandry. Eggs remain attached to the vegetation as the tide recedes.[11] Two types of reproductive strategy occur: A 'boom bust' strategy whereby spawning occurs in one event and is followed by death, semelparity, or spawning over multiple events before death iteroparity.[13]

Egg development[edit]

Eggs (about 1 mm diameter) develop in the vegetation for 2–4 weeks. Environmental conditions in the vegetation (particularly temperature and humidity) are critical for successful egg development. Egg mortality occurs from excess exposure to sunlight, predation from mice and spiders, grazing and trampling by livestock, mowing of bankside vegetation in urban areas, and flooding.[14] The following spring tide floods the eggs stimulating them to hatch.[11]

Marine life[edit]

A newly hatched G. maculatus larva

After hatching, the 7-mm-long larvae are swept out to sea and spend 3–6 months in the marine environment. This phase of their lifecycle is little understood, as the larvae are small, transparent, and difficult to locate.[15] The speed and direction of ocean currents play an important role in their dispersal; temperature and food availability are also important in determining how long they spend at sea. This marine dispersal phase is a critical part of the common galaxias's lifecycle, because it gives larvae from different populations or rivers the opportunity to 'connect'.

When the juveniles are sufficiently grown, about 30–55 mm in length, they migrate back into fresh water. The juveniles form large shoals as they move through estuaries. Some of their life is spent in the lower reaches of rivers, where they metamorphose, before spending their adult life in suitable freshwater habitat. Some individuals return to the river they were born in (natal homing), but most return to rivers other than their birth site.[16][17]

Freshwater life[edit]

Following metamorphosis, adult spend around 6 months in fresh water, where they gain sufficient growth and energy to begin investing in reproduction. Males generally reach sexual maturity earlier and at a smaller size than females.


In New Zealand, Deretrema philippae (=Limnoderetrema minutum) is known to parasitise the intestine (and possibly gall bladder) of the common galaxias. Similarly, the intestinal parasite Steganoderma szidati has been reported from this species' Argentinian population. These are digenean flatworms.[18]== Fishing ==

A transparent juvenile G. maculatus in Wainui Stream, Paekakariki, New Zealand

The juveniles are caught as whitebait while moving upstream and are much valued as a delicacy, leading to their protection with licensing and controlled fishing seasons to preserve adult populations. They are fished commercially in New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina, but the last Australian commercial fishery closed in Tasmania in the 1970s.[19]

Some jurisdictions permit fishing of the adults, but again under regulation or licence to preserve the adult population, but others ban it altogether unless the fisher belongs to an indigenous people (e.g., New Zealand Māori). For instance, in Tasmania, the adult common galaxias may only be caught using a pole of a specified maximum size (1 m).


Galaxiid species are, in general, threatened by human activities such as intensive agriculture and land change use. These activities have removed vegetation from stream banks that are needed for spawning to protect eggs from the sun. The increased nutrient input into streams from farming can lead to eutrophication. In New Zealand, their conservation status is declining, mostly because of habitat loss and degradation.[6]

As adults, common galaxias eat insects, crustaceans, and molluscs. This is the same diet as introduced trout, which not only compete for food, but also readily eat them. In areas where trout have become naturalised, common galaxias are scarce. Common galaxias, therefore, are mostly found in stretches of streams and rivers that are less suitable for introduced trout.


In parts of New Zealand, this species spawning habitat has become degraded due to activities related to agriculture, urbanisation, and land use change. This creates sink populations in rivers as adult fish have nowhere suitable to lay their eggs and the majority of eggs dies. Because these sink rivers produce no eggs or larvae, a gap is created during marine dispersal. No opportunities exist for the exchange of larvae from these sink populations with other populations. However, these sink populations can receive larvae that were born in different rivers. They will not be able to successfully reproduce and the sink cycle continues.

Innovative methods to restore the riparian spawning habitat include using straw bales as a temporary replacement for vegetation.[20] Straw bales provide the same conditions and physical structure as natural vegetation, enabling the eggs to develop successfully. This method ensures that eggs and larvae are produced and that each river is a source of larvae. Exclusion of livestock and fencing of the bank-side vegetation is also an effective method to encourage regrowth of suitable vegetation. Restoration of the spawning habitat helps to maintain connectivity between larvae from different rivers during marine dispersal.


  1. ^ "Galaxias maculatus". IUCN Redlist. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i McAllister, D.E. (1990) A working list of fishes of the world. Copies available from D.E. McAllister, Canadian Museum of Nature, P.O. Box 3443, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6P4, Canada. 2661 p. plus 1270 p. Index.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Paxton, J.R., D.F. Hoese, G.R. Allen and J.E. Hanley (1989) Pisces. Petromyzontidae to Carangidae. Zoological Catalogue of Australia, Vol. 7. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 665 p.
  4. ^ Allen, G.R. (1989) Freshwater fishes of Australia. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune City, New Jersey.
  5. ^ a b McQueen, Stella (2010). The New Zealand Native Freshwater Aquarium. New Zealand: Wet Sock Publications. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-473-17935-9. 
  6. ^ a b c d McQueen, Stella (2013). A Photographic Guide to Freshwater FIshes of New Zealand. Auckland: New Holland. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-86966-386-5. 
  7. ^ a b Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2017). "Galaxias maculatus" in FishBase. February 2017 version.
  8. ^ Urbina M.A, Glover C.N., Foster M.E. 2012. A novel oxyconforming response in the freshwater fish Galaxias maculatus. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 161, 301- 06.
  9. ^ Urbina M.A, Foster M.E, Glover C.N. 2011. Leap of faith: Voluntary emersion behaviour and physiological adaptations to aerial exposure in a non-aestivating freshwater fish in response to aquatic hypoxia. Physiology and Behavior 103, 240-247.
  10. ^ McDowall, Robert (2007). "On amphidromy, a distinct form of diadromy in aquatic organisms". Fish and Fisheries. 8 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2979.2007.00232.x. 
  11. ^ a b c McDowall, R.M. (1990). New Zealand Freshwater Fishes: A Natural History and Guide. Auckland: Heinemann Reed. ISBN 0 7900 0022 9. 
  12. ^ Taylor, M.J. (2002). "The National Inanga Spawning Database : trends and implications for spawning site management" (PDF). Science for Conservation. 188: 1–37. Retrieved 29 May 2016. 
  13. ^ Stevens, J. C. B.; Hickford, M. J. H.; Schiel, D. R. (2016-10-01). "Evidence of iteroparity in the widely distributed diadromous fish inanga Galaxias maculatus and potential implications for reproductive output". Journal of Fish Biology. 89 (4): 1931–1946. doi:10.1111/jfb.13083. ISSN 1095-8649. 
  14. ^ Hickford, Michael.J.H.; Schiel, David.R. (2011). "Synergistic interactions within disturbed habitats between temperature, relative humidity and UVB radiation on egg survival in a diadromous fish". PLoS ONE. 6 (9). 
  15. ^ McDowall, Robert (1988). Diadromy in fishes: Migrations between marine and freshwater environments. London: Croom Helm. 
  16. ^ Hickford, Michael J.H.; Schiel, David R. (2016). "Otolith microchemistry of the amphidromous Galaxias maculatus shows recruitment to coastal rivers from unstructured larval pools". Marine Ecology Progress Series. 548: 197–207. doi:10.3354/meps11701. 
  17. ^ Hickford, Michael J. H.; Schiel, David R. (2016-04-21). "Otolith microchemistry of the amphidromous Galaxias maculatus shows recruitment to coastal rivers from unstructured larval pools". Marine Ecology Progress Series. 548: 197–207. doi:10.3354/meps11701. 
  18. ^ (Etchegoin et al. 2002).
  19. ^ Gomon, Martin; Bray, Dianne. "Common Galaxias, Galaxias maculatus". Fishes of Australia. Retrieved 30 August 2014. 
  20. ^ Hickford, Michael J. H.; Schiel, David R. (2013-11-01). "Artificial Spawning Habitats Improve Egg Production of a Declining Diadromous Fish, Galaxias maculatus (Jenyns, 1842)". Restoration Ecology. 21 (6): 686–694. doi:10.1111/rec.12008. ISSN 1526-100X. 

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