High Cockscomb Prickleback      Anoplarchus purpurescens



This eel-like fish is a relatively common inhabitant of rocky intertidal and shallow subtidal zones.  It can sometimes be found under seaweed or below the overhang of a boulder at low tide. This four inch individual (growing to just over 7 inches) was found sheltered under baskets of cultured oysters in Totten Inlet.  This species of prickleback is distinguished from most other pricklebacks by the ridge of soft flesh, which lacks a bony support, that runs along the length of the head (in this individual the ridge is flopped down).  A close relative has a less conspicuous fleshy ridge and lacks the black strips on the cheeks.


Pricklebacks are a diverse group of eel-like fishes that inhabit the cold nearshore waters of the northern hemisphere.  They are characterized by a long, compressed body with a dorsal fin composed entirely of spines that runs from the back of the head to the base of, but not into, the tail fin.  The bottom fin, or anal fin, runs from anal area, around mid body, to the tail fin base.  There are some 14 species that inhabit northwest waters.  A similar appearing group of fish that occur in the same habitat are the Gunnels.  


The High Cockscomb eats a variety of items from green seaweed (reported to be 1/3 of the diet) to small marine worms, mollusks and crustaceans.  They have been seen being fed upon by garter snakes that enter the beach at low tide and are also probably eaten by river otters, harbor seals and larger fish.


Reproduction occurs in late winter when females lay several thousand eggs in spaces protected by rocks or boulders.  The female then guards the eggs for several weeks while fanning them to supply oxygen.  Upon hatching the small young probably spend some time in the plankton community growing to an inch in size by June when they resemble a small adult.