The Old Wife is the only species representing the Enoplosidae family and is endemic to Australian waters from southern Queensland to south-western Western Australia. They were originally classified as a butterflyfish, but are actually more closely related to the boarfish. The Old Wife has a striking appearance with its silvery-white body with vertical black bands, two tall separate dorsal fins and inside the eye a bright yellow/orange iris . These dorsal fins encase a spine that contains venom which can cause severe pain. Juveniles are more elongate and lack the tall fins that adults possess. Old Wives grows to a maximum size of 25 centimetres.
Juvenile Old Wives inhabit seagrass beds in estuaries and as they mature move onto coastal reefs able to form large schools, which break into pairs when a suitable habitat is found for spawning. Very rarely are they observed solitary. They produce pelagic eggs which drift in the water column. Old Wives are a carnivorous species, feeding on a diet of small crustaceans.
The common name “old wife” was given to the species by early sailors, they believed the grunting noise the fish made when caught sounded something like the nagging of an old woman!
Other common names include Bastard dory, Zebra-tail, Zebra fish.
Occurrence at the Busselton Jetty
The Old Wife is a resident of the Busselton Jetty and is seen on a regular basis from the Underwater Observatory. They hover amongst the jetty piles above the seafloor and are almost always observed in pairs. Potentially able to be shy species, but if not feeling threatened the Old Wife will swim up towards and around the seafloor Observatory windows, where the details of their unique fin structure can be observed.
Image by; O. Rynvis