Pacific Staghorn Sculpin    Leptocottus armatus

Want to know how to survive in a shallow tide pool on an open sand flat at low tide with great blue herons looking for a meal?  Well you go into hiding.  Worms disappear below the surface, clams withdraw their siphon, sand shrimp dig under the sand, but if you are a fish you blend in with the surroundings.  That's what this one inch juvenile Staghorn sculpin did.  Look closely at the middle of the picture, see the head with two black eyes at the top, the fins just behind the head and the long tail?  Larger individuals will hide by wiggling under the sand so just their eyes show.  They are preyed upon by a variety of predators including herons, kingfishers, loons, mergansers, cormorants, sea lions and harbor seals.

The Pacific Staghorn sculpins are very common shallow subtidal, bottom-dwelling fish that move onto the beach at high tide. They are one of the few marine fish that can tolerate areas of low salinity and can be found in the lower reaches of streams. They are familiar to kids who often catch them when fishing near shore or off a dock. They grow 12 or more inches in the first year, becoming sexually mature (see inset photograph of adult). Maximum size is 18 inches.  Their color is gray to greenish brown above and yellowish to white below.  Aside from the size and color, they can be distinguished from other sculpin species by their flatter heads and antler-like, gill cover spines with several sharp spikes which can inflict a nasty scratch.

Spawning occurs mainly in January and February with eggs laid on rocks and are guarded by the male.  Hatching occurs in 9-14 days with the larvae remaining in the plankton for 60 days.  They range from the Bering Sea to northern Baja California.

The Pacific Staghorn Sculpin is a member of the Cottid family of bony fish.  This family is composed of a large number of species (63) with the center of their distribution in the eastern north Pacific Ocean. They are cold water, bottom-living fish, generally with few body scales and, except for a few species, are small and usually inconspicuous. Most eat small invertebrates, although the Buffalo sculpin sometimes eats green seaweed and large sculpins eat small fish.