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Parapterois heterura grows to a maximum length of 38 cm (15 in) TL, however, most specimens are much smaller than this and adults are often about 11 cm (4.3 in) in length. The dorsal fin of this fish has thirteen spines with long filaments on their tips, and nine soft rays. The anal fins have two spines and seven to eight soft rays. The outer rays of the caudal fin also have filamentous extensions. Parapterois heterura is very similar in appearance to the closely related Parapterois macrura. The two species differ in that P. heterura has scales in a pit between the posterior nostrils while P. macrura does not (except for a population of P. heterura found off the coasts of West India, South Africa, and Mozambique, which may be a different species). These species do not differ much in fin spine, fin ray, gill raker counts, and most body proportions. Their differences lie in a small difference in head proportions. Also, in adults, the upper margin of the eye of P. heterura is below the base of the first dorsal fin spine, while it is above in P. macrura (this trait is not consistent in juveniles, in which the eye margin may be below in both species).
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