Introduction to frog friendly fishes

Introduction to frog friendly fishes

Pictured: Pacific Blue Eye

In Australia, like elsewhere, frogs are in decline. One of the reasons is the loss of habitat due to urban expansion. However, even in the middle of the cities you can have frogs breeding in your garden. Many home owners are keen to have frog friendly gardens but are fearful of mosquitoes breeding. The solution to this problem is to get frog friendly fishes in the pond to gobble up the mosquitoes before they get a chance. But how do you select frog friendly fishes that will leave most, if not all of the tadpoles and eggs alone?

What are the non frog friendly fishes?

There are species of fish you MUST avoid, some by law and others by common sense. The first one I will mention is possibly the most destructive freshwater fish found in most of Australia- the tiny yet nasty mosquito fish – Gambusia. It is illegal in Australia to release these fish into the water. This technically includes private ponds and even aquariums! If netted, by law they must be destroyed and never transported. This species is a live-bearer and gives birth at a phenomenal rate, populating water ways rapidly and excluding all other small fish and tadpoles. They gang up on other fish and tadpoles, ripping their fins apart causing a slow, painful death. The mosquito fish was introduced from the USA to combat mosquitoes, but had limited success in Australia. Now they are a massive (but tiny) pest.

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In the same league as mosquito fish are any other introduced fish, these include but are not limited to popular pond fish such as:

  • Sword tails, Molly, Guppies (Poecilidae)
  • Goldfish, Carp, Barbs, true Minnows (Cyprinidae)
  • Fighting fish, Gouramy, Climbing Perch (Anabatidae)
  • Tilapia, Cichlids, Oscars (Cichlidae)

If you want frogs in the garden you will also want to avoid native non frog friendly fishes such as:

  • Grunters (Sooty Grunter, Spangled Perch, Striped Grunter, Silver Perch etc… from family Terapontidae)
  • Mouth Almighty (family Apogonidae)
  • Freshwater Basses (Australian Bass, Macquarie Perch, Golden Perch, Murray Cod… family Percicthydae)
  • Tarpon
  • Gudgeons (larger species such as Sleepy Cod, Trout Gudgeon)
  • Saratoga

Now for the Frog Friendly Fishes

There are a great number of frog friendly fishes native to Australian freshwaters. In fact just about anywhere in the country you will find a number of species available to you. There are many ways to get them, the best way is to look at what is native to your area and source them from a local aquarium dealer or a breeder. Having fish native to your area means they are accustomed to the condtions in terms of weather and temperature. And if they escape, there will be no issues. There are some considerations you may want to look at:

    • Is the species native to your area?
    • How big is your pond?
    • If you are collecting fish from the wild, is it legal to collect that particular species?
    • Do you have a fishing licence if you are collecting from the wild?
    • Are your collecting methods legal?

You can easily find out the legalities of collecting frog friendly fishes from the wild by either consulting your relevant government department (usually fisheries) but this will vary state to state. If it is allowed, wild collection is a good way to go as the fish will normally display better colours and be more genetically healthy.

Some species of otherwise frog friendly fishes will eat a small number of tadpoles if other food has run out. However this should be minimal, and may be lessened by feeding with flakes etc. The fish species will be listed with the best coming first.

Collecting frog friendly fishes

There are many methods to collect frog friendly fishes, and as I said check out the legalities first. In some states you will require a simple fishing licence. The best way to collect is at night (beware of crocodiles!) with a bright torch. Some species such as Smelt will gather around a light and can easily be scooped up with a fine, delicate net while other species such as rainbow fish, blue eyes, hardyheads and many more will sit motionless on the surface and a net can carefully be slid under them and lifted up slowly. Be very gentle and do not handle the fish by hand if possible, it is best to not take the net fully out of the water but use a cup to scoop them out of the net and into a holding bucket (with a lid!)

The other method is to use a box trap. These are legal in most states, and worth around $10 each. Simply bait with garden worms in the little bait pocket and place in a weedy area. Pigmy Perch and many other species are easily caught this way.

Otherwise, using a simple scoop net around weedy creeks, drains and ponds can be a great and simple way to collect.

Species of frog friendly fishes

The blue-eyes, family Pseudomuglidae

Blue Eyes are at the top of the list for tropical and sub tropical frog friendly fishes. Found all over northern Australia and down the east coast to the Victorian border they are small, lively and charming little fishes. Males are brightly coloured and display over sized fins to passing females. Most species are highly tolerant of water conditions and can be found from mountain streams down to mangroves and even out at sea! Most species reach a maximum of 40mm and are great in frog ponds.

Spotted blue eyes are excellent frog friendly fishes The Spotted Blue Eye (Pseudomugil gertrudae) This species is native to a variety of locations from near Cardwell in North Queensland and through scattered localities across to the Northern Territory. It is found in shallow waters in swamps, drains and small streams. Highly regarded as an aquarium fish it may do very well in ponds.
Pacific Blue Eye (Pseudomugil signifer)Pacific Blue Eyes are incredibly tolerant of all kinds of water and can be found in streams and even on coral reefs on the entire east coast of Australia right to the Bega area of NSW. They are beautiful little fish and do well in ponds.
Delicate Blue Eye (Pseudomugil tenellus)This species is native to the Top End of the NT and the Weipa area of Queensland. It is found in swamps, marshes and tidal rivers. Another excellent pond fish.
Neon Blue Eye (Pseudomugil cyanodorsalis)With brilliant electric blue backs and yellow sail-like fins, this species is primarily found in salt water mangroves in far northern Australia, but overseas, aquarium enthusiasts report this species is extremely hardy and may breed in fresh water, so if you live around Darwin or Broome you may consider this species to try.

The Southern Smelts (Retropinnidae)

In terms of frog friendly fishes, these are the ultimate for those living inland or the far south. Found in fresh and brackish waters from the Cooper/Lake Eyre system in the outback, through the Murray/Darling and many east coast and southern streams as well as Tasmania they are not known to eat tadpoles but are exceptional as mosquito destroyers. Often available in the aquarium trade, but easy to collect at night with a spotlight they are very delicate when transported but once established are very hardy in a pond. On the mainland you have the Australian Smelt, while in Tasmania the near identical Tasmanian Smelt is the local species but it may breed in tidal rivers or the sea. <Show Google images>

Hardyheads (Athernidae)

Many species of freshwater hardyhead or silverside call Australia home. For the frog friendly fishes list, these are also at the top. They have tiny mouths, are hardy and mop up mosquito and midge larvae without a hassle, and some even feed on algae as a bonus. All of the suitable species belong to the Craterocephalus genus. There are a few of them but two are easily obtained and kept.

Strawman or Blackmast (C. stramineus)The most attractive of the freshwater hardyheads this species is found in western Queensland and parts of the NT. It dines on algae and small aquatic insects. It is super delicate and must be handled with extreme care but adapts well to ponds once established.
Flyspeckled hardyhead (C. stercusmuscarum)Another perfect pond fish there are a couple of subspecies but this fish is found throughout the Murray Darling system and the east coast as well as the Top End. Easily obtained and very easy to keep it is one of the very frog friendly fishes.

Galaxias (Galaxiidae)

Eastern Dwarf Galaxias

There are many Galaxias species in Australia, they are restricted to cold climates and make excellent pond fish, though many are protected by law. Larger species such as the Spotted (Galaxias truttaceus) and the Mountain Galaxias (Galaxias olidus) are rumored to ignore tadpoles but require larger ponds and may be protected by law in some states. The following are the dwarf galaxias species (Galaxiella) that are absolutely perfect in ponds though very hard to obtain due to legalities. The best bet is to contact your state conservation department to see if any species are available through captive breeding. If not, maybe try lobbying to get these fascinating fishes available in the captive trade (they are so rare they need all the help they can get!) If you can obtain them they would make exceptional frog friendly fishes. These dwarf species are at risk due mostly to the introduced mosquito fish. They are naturally found in creeks and swamps, they are suspected to survive droughts in burrows in the mud. The two species are the Black Striped Dwarf Galaxias from southwest WA (Galaxiella nigrostriata) and the Eastern Dwarf Galaxias from the far southeast and Tasmania (Galaxiella pusilla). Both are beautifully coloured, and the male Eastern displays lovely red sides in the spring breeding season.

Pigmy Perch (Nannopercidae)

Small and often exquisitely beautiful, pigmy perches are represented by a small number of species found from Queensland down to the southern states including Tasmania. Some are critically endangered and protected by law and must never be removed from their diminishing habitat. They are frog friendly fishes for most of the time, though if crowded or hungry may snack on the odd tadpole. They typically live in weedy swamps, backwaters and creeks. Males display vivid colours during spring and summer when they breed, laying a small number of eggs scattered around the place per day. The species shown is the Southern Pigmy Perch which is native to southeastern Australia and is the easiest to obtain and keep.

  • Southern Pigmy Perch (Nannoperca australis)
  • Western Pigmy Perch (Nannoperca vittata)
  • Variegated Pigmy Perch (Nannoperca variegata)
  • Yarra Pigmy Perch (Edelia obscura)
  • Oxeylan Pigmy Perch (Nannoperca oxleyana)

Rainbowfishes (Melanotaenidae)

Eastern Rainbow fish (Checkered NT form)

Also generally small, the small species are usually frog friendly fishes, rainbowfishes are excellent in ponds. They are easily obtained and kept as well as colorful and entertaining. There are species found almost throughout Australia, excluding the far south and Tasmania. You will want the smaller species that are less likely to eat the odd tadpole. Two species are shown, but you will want to check that you not only choose local species, but the local variant as well as each creek or river usually has its own unique form.

Avoid: The Banded rainbowfish (M. trifasciata), Murray River Rainbow (M. splendida fluviatilis) Eastern and Western rainbowfish (M.splendida and M.australis) These are the larger species that, it has been pointed out are more likely to eat tadpoles due to their larger size.

Black striped Rainbowfish

Gudgeons (Eleotridae)

Found all over Australia, gudgeons (known elsewhere as “sleepers”) are great as mosquito control. The species that fall into the category of frog friendly fishes are mostly in the genus Hypseleotris, known as the “Carp Gudgeons.” There are several species and some are protected but check the aquarium trade. Pictured is a dwarf Empire Fish which was found in Darwin and seems to remain small enough.

Other frog friendly fishes and critters

There are other species you may want to include in your pond that will not destroy tadpoles or eat pesky insects but are great for cleaning up algae and waste.

The first one is the Spotted Scat (Scatophagus argus) that munches on algae and poo. They grow to about 30cm so require a bigger pond but are peaceful vegetarians. They normally live in brackish and salt waters though may be naturally found well into the freshwater in the tropics and sub tropics of Australia.


Freshwater shrimps and crabs are also marvellous in ponds and can easily be collected with a box trap or scoop net in weedy creeks and ponds.

Caridinia shrimp

Macrobrachium shrimp

So now you have a great starting point for stocking your pond with frog friendly fishes. Enjoy the frogs!

5 comments on “Introduction to frog friendly fishes

  1. Hi

    I would say with the pacific blue eye you need to know if pond raised. I have 3 that I call the Paranas having said that I have 5 others that are great. Even the babies will keep the mozzies down.


  2. “Rainbow Fish” are NOT frog friendly! I have Murray River Rainbows and these fish gobble tadpoles up to around the 7mm size (excluding tail). The only way to ensure tadpole survival if you have these fish is to isolate the frog spawn and grow the tadpoles until they are too big for the rainbows to eat. They need to be big! I’d like to get rid of the rainbows from my large pond but as they have bred and are very quick that will be almost impossible so I’d say avoid Rainbows if you want to give your frogs a chance.

  3. Nathan on said:

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your comment and observation. I have never had an issue with the smaller rainbowfish species (typically the Ornate), though the Murray is one of the “larger” ones. I’ll re-word the article accordingly. Other authors and people I have spoken to have, however highly recommended the Murray Rainbow.


  4. Hi – the biggest problem I’m having is finding any of these fish. I’m in South Australia – any tips?

    • Nathan on said:

      Hi Paul,

      Sorry about the late reply, been out in the field. The first port of call would be ANGFA (The Australian & New Guinea Fishes Association) either via Facebook or contact them online. They have a network of fish keepers that surely could help you source some frog friendly fishes. Failing that, Pigmy Perch are often available in the aquarium trade. Your local aquarium supplier may be able to source them. They are native to SA so there should be no problem. Universities often have fish left over from experiments you could adopt too. Hope this helps!


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