Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

This stickleback is an active fish that forms schools (5). Marine three-spined sticklebacks are migratory, whereas freshwater forms tend to be resident (they stay in the same area for life) (2). Spawning occurs in early spring and summer. The male builds a hollow nest with seaweeds or aquatic plants. After much cajoling by the male, the female lays her eggs inside the nest and the male takes over parental duties, guarding the fertilised eggs and fanning them with his fins to provide them with oxygen (4). The young sticklebacks stay within the safety of the nest until they have absorbed their yolk sacs; they then enter the water where they initially live on plankton (2). After a while they begin to feed on worms, crustaceans, aquatic insects, small fishes and even the eggs and fry of their own species (5).
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Description

The stickleback is a well-known fish, and is the archetypal 'tiddler', the first small fish caught by many school children (4). It is a small, beautifully streamlined, torpedo shaped fish, with a broad tail fin. Although most individuals tend to measure between 4 and 6 cm in length (2), some marine sticklebacks may grow to 10 cm (3). The common name derives from the most unique feature of these fish, the presence of two to four, but typically three, sharp spines on the back in front of the dorsal fin (3). The sides of this stickleback are usually covered with large bony plates; this armour is more developed on individuals living in the sea than freshwater sticklebacks (2). The back is dark grey, greyish or bluish-green, and the flanks are silvery (2). During the spawning season, males develop a metallic sheen and a prominent bright orange or red colouration on the front part of the underside (2).
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Distribution

Western North Atlantic: Hudson Bay and Baffin Island to Chesapeake Bay. Europe: Mediterranean and Black Seas; also in most rivers. North Africa: reported from Mifidja near Algiers. North Pacific: Korea to Bering Sea and to Baja California, Mexico; but anadromous fish are only as far south as Monterey Bay, California, USA.
  • Arnoult, J., 1986; Bigelow, H.B. and Schroeder, W.C., 1953; Eschmeyer, W.N., E.S. Herald and H. Hammann, 1983; McPhail, J.D., 1969; Morrow, J.E., 1980; Muus, B.J. and J.G. Nielsen, 1999; Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr, 1991; Safran, P., 1990; Safran, P. and M. Omori, 1990; Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman, 1973.
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Source: Gulf of Maine Area Census of Marine Life

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Range

This widespread species is found throughout Britain and continental Europe from the Iberian Peninsula, the Black Sea and Italy in the south, reaching as far north as Iceland, Norway and the White Sea in Russia (2). Elsewhere it occurs in North Africa, Iran, the North Pacific, and the North Atlantic (5).
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Physical Description

Size

Length in freshwater is 8 cm; length in saltwater is 11 cm.
  • Arnoult, J., 1986; Bigelow, H.B. and Schroeder, W.C., 1953; Eschmeyer, W.N., E.S. Herald and H. Hammann, 1983; McPhail, J.D., 1969; Morrow, J.E., 1980; Muus, B.J. and J.G. Nielsen, 1999; Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr, 1991; Safran, P., 1990; Safran, P. and M. Omori, 1990; Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman, 1973.
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Type Information

Type for Gasterosteus aculeatus aculeatus
Catalog Number: USNM 21140
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes
Collector(s): Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris
Locality: Avignon, France, France, Europe
  • Type:
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Ecology

Habitat

Benthopelagic; freshwater; marine; depth range: to 27 m. Usually inhabits vegetated areas in mud or sand bottoms. In the sea, confined to coastal waters. Forms schools. Young associated with drifting seaweed.
  • Arnoult, J., 1986; Bigelow, H.B. and Schroeder, W.C., 1953; Eschmeyer, W.N., E.S. Herald and H. Hammann, 1983; McPhail, J.D., 1969; Morrow, J.E., 1980; Muus, B.J. and J.G. Nielsen, 1999; Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr, 1991; Safran, P., 1990; Safran, P. and M. Omori, 1990; Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman, 1973.
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Both marine and freshwater forms of this fish are known (2). The freshwater form is found in well-vegetated sites that typically have muddy or sandy bottoms. In the sea they are found only in coastal areas and juveniles are associated with drifting patches of seaweed. This species is also common in estuaries (5).
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Trophic Strategy

Feeds on worms, crustaceans, larvae and adult aquatic insects, drowned aerial insects, and small fishes.
  • Arnoult, J., 1986; Bigelow, H.B. and Schroeder, W.C., 1953; Eschmeyer, W.N., E.S. Herald and H. Hammann, 1983; McPhail, J.D., 1969; Morrow, J.E., 1980; Muus, B.J. and J.G. Nielsen, 1999; Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr, 1991; Safran, P., 1990; Safran, P. and M. Omori, 1990; Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman, 1973.
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Life History and Behavior

Reproduction

Spawning behavior is similar for both freshwater and anadromous forms. During the breeding season, territorial males build a nest and attract females by performing a "courtship dance". Males direct a female to the nest opening by posing head down above the nest. After a female deposits 50-100 eggs, the male chases her out of nest before he fertilizes the eggs, or he attempts to court another female. Males remain in the nest to guard and ventilate the eggs and young. Females may lay eggs in more than one nest over several days. Fish are hermaphroditic in some populations.
  • Arnoult, J., 1986; Bigelow, H.B. and Schroeder, W.C., 1953; Eschmeyer, W.N., E.S. Herald and H. Hammann, 1983; McPhail, J.D., 1969; Morrow, J.E., 1980; Muus, B.J. and J.G. Nielsen, 1999; Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr, 1991; Safran, P., 1990; Safran, P. and M. Omori, 1990; Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman, 1973.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Gasterosteus aculeatus aculeatus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Status

Common and widespread in Britain (3).
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Threats

This species is not currently threatened.
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Management

Conservation

Conservation action has not been targeted at this common species.
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