occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: Range encompasses Pacific Slope drainages of North America from Ventura River, California, to the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska; east of the Continental Divide, this sculpin occurs in the upper Peace River (Arctic basin), British Columbia; it occurs on Queen Charlotte and Vancouver islands (Lee et al. 1980, Page and Burr 2011).
Length: 9 cm
Habitat and Ecology
Habitat Type: Freshwater
Comments: Habitat includes coastal and inland streams and sandy and rocky shores of lakes. Typically this sculpin inhabits pools and waters of slight current in small to medium rivers and is often on bottoms of fine materials, predominantly sand (Lee et al. 1980). It also occurs in tidewater areas; it can tolerate brackish water (tidepools, estuaries). Spawning occurs in freshwater or intertidal zones that contain flat rocks and moderate current. Males prepare nests under rocks, logs, cans, car bodies, or other debris. Larvae are pelagic for 30-35 days.
Depth range (m): 0.05 - 6
Depth range (m): 0.05 - 6
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Downstream migration of adults and upstream migration of young-of-the-year sculpins is typical of many (but not all) populations (Moyle 1976).
Comments: Feeds mainly on aquatic insects, their larvae, and other large benthic invertebrates. Larger sculpins (> 70 mm SL) often eat fishes.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300
Comments: This species is represented by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations).
100,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but apparently quite large. This sculpin is common; locally abundant (Page and Burr 1991).
Abundant where found (Moyle 1976).
Life History and Behavior
Comments: Typically hides under submerged objects during the day, emerges and feeds actively at night. Moves to deeper water during the winter and lives under cover of rocks and other debris (Wydoski and Whitney 1979)
Matures in 2nd-4th year. Spawning may occur late February-June; most spawning in California probably occurs March-April. Female deposits 280- 11,000 eggs depending on her size and age (Moyle 1976). Male may spawn with more than one female.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Cottus asper
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cottus asper
Public Records: 6
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Total adult population size is unknown but apparently quite large. This sculpin is common; locally abundant (Page and Burr 1991).
Trend over the past 10 years or three generations is uncertain but likely to be relatively stable.
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)
Comments: Trend over the past 10 years or three generations is uncertain but likely relatively stable.
Comments: No major threats are known. Locally, some populations likely have been eliminated or reduced as a result of barriers constructed across streams (Moyle 2002).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Cottus asper is a species of fish in the sculpin family known by the common name prickly sculpin. It is native to the river drainages of the Pacific Slope of North America from Seward, Alaska south to the Ventura River of Southern California. It extends east of the Continental Divide in the Peace River of British Columbia. It has also been introduced to several reservoirs in Southern California.
This fish can reach about 30 centimeters in length, but it is usually smaller, often around 7 centimeters. It is mature at 2 to 4 years of age, and its maximum lifespan is around 7 years. It is brown, gray, or olive green on its upper parts and white or yellowish ventrally. There are dark spots or bars on the back and dark bars on most of the fins. The breeding male is darker in color than the female and nonbreeding male. Both sexes develop an orange coloration along the edge of the first dorsal fin during breeding. The pectoral fins are large and fan-shaped. The body of the fish is prickly; inland-dwelling fish tend to be more prickly than those at the coast.
There are two main forms of the species. The inland form lives in lakes, while the coastal form lives in rivers and swims down into brackish estuaries to breed. A catadromous species, it is tolerant of high and low salinities. It is generally a bottom-dwelling species. It is nocturnal, feeding at night.
The diet of the fish includes water invertebrates, insects and their larvae, salmon eggs, fish larvae, especially those of the Sacramento sucker (Catostomus occidentalis occidentalis), and zooplankton, especially Daphnia spp. Larger sculpins eat small fish, frogs, and molluscs. The adults are known to cannibalize the juveniles.
In its habitat it lives alongside its relative, the coastrange sculpin (Cottus aleuticus), which is quite similar to it in terms of morphology and behavior. It can also be found with the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Klamath small-scale sucker (Catostomus rimiculus), coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki), Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha), and coho salmon (O. kisutch).
Spawning season can extend from February to June. The male creates a nest under debris such as logs or garbage, and the female lays many eggs, from a few hundred up to 11,000. The male guards the nest. He may breed with more than one female per season.
This fish is common in most of its range, becoming quite abundant in the summer when recruitment occurs and the previous season's juveniles join the population. While it is native to many waterways in California, it represents an introduced species in some Southern California lakes, rivers, and tributaries, such as the Santa Clara River, the Santa Ana River, Irvine Lake, and Big Bear Lake. It occurs in reservoirs such as Pyramid Lake. It was likely introduced to many of these places from farther north via the California Aqueduct.
The fish is said to be edible by humans, at least the larger individuals. It also makes a good bait fish.
- Fuller, P. and M. Neilson. 2013. Cottus asper. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL.
- Froese, R. Cottus asper. In: Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2011. FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication.
- NatureServe. 2013. Cottus asper. NatureServe Explorer: An Online Encyclopedia of Life [web application].
- Rickard, N. A. (1980). Life history and population characteristics of the prickly sculpin (Cottus asper Richardson) in Lake Washington. (Thesis). University of Washington.
- Merz, J. E. (2002). Comparison of diets of prickly sculpin and juvenile fall-run Chinook salmon in the lower Mokelumne River, California. The Southwestern Naturalist 47(2) 195-204.
- Cottus asper. California Fish Website. University of California.
- Pfister, C. A. (2003). Some consequences of size variability in juvenile prickly sculpin, Cottus asper. Environmental Biology of Fishes 66 383-90.
- Brown, L. R., et al. (1995). Comparative ecology of prickly sculpin, Cottus asper, and coastrange sculpin, Cottus aleuticus, in the Eel River, California. Environmental Biology of Fishes 42 329-43.
- White, J. L. and B. C. Harvey. (1999). Habitat separation of prickly sculpin, Cottus asper, and coastrange sculpin, Cottus aleuticus, in the mainstem Smith River, northwestern California. Copeia 2 371-75.
- Prickly Sculpin, Cottus asper. Marine Species with Aquaculture Potential Off the Coast of Oregon and Pacific Northwest.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Early nomenclatural history confusing. Two forms, a sparsely prickled coastal form and heavily prickled inland form, have been recognized and may be genetically distinct (Lee et al. 1980). Formerly included in the order Perciformes; the 1991 AFS checklist (Robins et al. 1991) followed Nelson (1984) in recognizing the order Scorpaeniformes as distinct from the Perciformes.