Tag Archive: sculpin


Fishy Fathers

There’s a whole lotta fish procreation going on in the NE Pacific Ocean right now. This might be a surprise to those who think mating is more of a spring-fling-kinda-thing.

It may be a further surprise that, for many marine fish species here, the males are the protectors of the next generation. The females leave after laying the eggs and the males remain, guarding the fertilized eggs from predators and often also fanning the eggs to ensure they are well aerated.

For a lot of these fish species, the male chooses the nesting site and entices multiple females to lay eggs there so that he can fertilize them. He then has the work of guarding these multiple egg masses and may need to be on the alert for sneak fertilization attempts by other males.

For species with nests of multiple egg masses, you can often tell how many females have laid eggs there because individual females have different coloured eggs. Therefore, the colour of fish eggs is not a good characteristic to determine the species that laid them. Instead, do a quick scan, chances are a piscine papa is somewhere near the eggs, staring at you.

Through the photos below, meet some of these fabulous fish fathers. No deadbeat dads here!

[Note that this is in no way a comprehensive list of NE Pacific Ocean fish species in which the males guard the eggs.]

Whitespotted Greenling

The encounter documented below shows how my dive buddy and I recently had a whitespotted greenling come after us, so intent was he on protecting his egg masses. I was very slow in cluing in that this was why he was swimming around us and deserved getting a little nip in the head.  Notice how small he is relative to us and yet how this did not deter him in trying to get rid of us.

Male White-Spotted Greenling shortly after he nipped my big head in his intensity to guard his egg masses. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Whitespotted Greenling shortly after he nipped my big head in his intensity to guard his egg masses. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Dive buddy Jacqui Engel pointing at the male White-Spotted Greenling before we clued in and got out of his territory with eggs. Image shows small the fish is compared to us and how big his drive to protect the egg masses that he would come after us. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Dive buddy Jacqui Engel pointing at the male Whitespotted Greenling before I clued in and got out of his territory with eggs. Image shows how small the fish is compared to us and how big his drive to protect the egg masses must be that he would pursue us like he did. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male White-Spotted Greenling intensely guarding eggs. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Here he is intensely guarding eggs. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Whitespotted greenling (Hexagrammos stelleri)
Maximum recorded size: 48 cm
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: September to December

Kelp Greenling

Most often Kelp Greenling eggs are in the empty shells of giant barnacles as shown below. Although they are a bigger member of the Greenling family, male Kelp Greenlings do not appear to protect their eggs quite as vigorously as Whitespotted Greenlings. They appear to have a really long breeding season in our area.

Male Kelp Greenling © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Kelp Greenling. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Eggs the male Kelp Greenling was guarding. Most often in giant barnacle tests (shells) like this. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

These are the eggs that the male Kelp Greenling in the above image was guarding. The eggs are most often laid in giant barnacle tests (shells) like this. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Kelp Greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus)
Maximum recorded size:61 cm
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: October to March
TMD slide show: Courtship Display in Kelp Greenlings 

Red Irish Lord

Oh Red Irish Lords how I love thee. There is no better ambassador for how colourful life is in these waters since they are brilliant shades, yet astoundingly camouflaged. Red Irish Lords are often easier to find when guarding their eggs since these are less camouflaged. There are so many guarding eggs right now which they often do with their heads positioned right atop the eggs, remaining absolutely motionless.

Another male Red Irish Lord guarding an egg mass - note the very different coloured eggs from the previous image. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Another male Red Irish Lord guarding an egg mass – note the very different coloured eggs in the following image. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Red Irish Lord guarding egg mass. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Red Irish Lord guarding egg mass. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Red Irish Lord (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus)
Maximum recorded size: 51 cm
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: December to May
Previous TMD blog item on the species: In the Eye of the Lord (the Red Irish Lord That Is!)

Buffalo Sculpin

There are Buffalo Sculpin males guarding eggs at this time of year too but more mating appears to be happen in April and May. Usually, Buffalo Sculpins are even harder to spot than their Red Irish Lord cousins but the variably coloured, bright egg masses give away their location. They too have a strategy of staying right atop the eggs and remaining motionless when faced with annoying human divers.

Male Buffalo Sculpin guarding two egg masses - each from different females. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Buffalo Sculpin guarding two egg masses – each from different females. © 2008 Jackie Hildering

Male Buffalo Sculpin guarding egg mass. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Buffalo Sculpin guarding egg mass. © 2007 Jackie Hildering

Buffalo Sculpin (Enophrys bison)
Maximum recorded size: 37 cm
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: January to May
Previous TMD blog item on the species: Buffalos Mating Underwater

Lingcod

Soon we will be participating in the Vancouver Aquarium’s annual Lingcod Egg Mass Count. Armed with an underwater slate, we will join divers along the Coast in helping determine the health of lingcod populations by looking at the number and size of the egg masses and if they are being guarded by males. And oh what fastidious fathers lingcod males are! The dedication to protecting the egg masses does vary from male to male but, generally, they do not leave their watch until the eggs hatch which can be more than 24 days. They could be guarding masses from multiple females separated by more than 7 m, and if laid by a female 5 years old and older, the egg masses can be the size of a watermelon and weigh up to 14 kg! That’s a lot to protect! (As is also the case for many rockfish, the older the female lingcod, the more eggs she lays). My best lingcod story is that I was marking down “unguarded” on my slate only to have it knocked out of my hands by the male that was very much guarding the egg mass I had been observing! Lots more info on this species at my blog item Lingcod – Fastidious Fanged Fathers

Lingcod male guarding egg mass (with a couple of shrimp on his back). © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Lingcod male guarding egg mass (with a couple of shrimp on his back). © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Lingcod male guarding egg mass. Photo focus a bit fuzzy but the battle wound reveals the perils of egg guarding. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Lingcod male guarding egg mass. Photo is a bit fuzzy but the battle wound reveals the perils of egg guarding. © 2007 Jackie Hildering

Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus)
Maximum recorded size: 152 cm
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: January to April (Vancouver Aquarium’s Egg Mass Survey is from early February to the beginning of April).
Previous TMD blog item on the species: Lingcod – Fastidious Fanged Fathers 

Wolf Eel

Here’s a case where it is not just the male that guards the eggs. Mr. and Mrs. Wolf Eel take turns wrapping their long tails around the large egg mass. I hope to one day have the opportunity to get a better image than this but, as a strategy for survival, the egg mass is often deep within the wolf eel couple’s den. Lots more information on this remarkable species at my previous blog item Wolf Eel – No Ugly Fish!

Mr. and Mrs. Wolf Eel sharing duty in taking care of the egg mass. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Mr. and Mrs. Wolf Eel sharing duty in taking care of the egg mass. Female on left and male on right. © 2005 Jackie Hildering

Wolf Eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus)
Maximum recorded size: 2.4 m
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: October to January
Previous TMD blog item on the species: Wolf Eel – No Ugly Fish! 

Cabezon

I’ve only once been lucky enough to find a male of this huge sculpin species guarding eggs. They can apparently be very aggressive guarders but this very successful male (he was guarding the eggs of several females) was very tolerant of my presence. They have been documented to mate throughout the year. My one encounter with a male cabezon guarding eggs was in May.

Male Cabezon guarding egg masses from multiple females (egg masses different colours).  © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Cabezon guarding egg masses from multiple females (egg masses different colours). © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus)
Maximum recorded size: 99 cm

Painted Greenling

In all these years of diving, I have yet to find a male painted greening guarding eggs so that I know for sure the eggs are from this species. Yet something else to be on the lookout for!

Painted greenling. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Painted greenling. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Painted Greenling (Oxylebius pictus)
Maximum recorded size: 25 cm

Grunt Sculpin

And, the stuff of dreams  . . .  to one day chance upon a male grunt sculpin while he is releasing the hatching eggs from  . . . his mouth! For more on that, see my previous blog item Grunt Sculpin – Little Fish, BIG AttitudeThe females apparently also do take on shifts in taking care of the eggs.

Grunt Sculpin. Most often found in empty barnacle tests (not cups!) © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Grunt Sculpin. Most often found in empty barnacle tests (not cups!) © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Grant Sculpin (Rhamphocottus richardsonii)
Maximum recorded size: 8.9 cm
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island:
Previous TMD blog item on the species: Grunt Sculpin – Little Fish, BIG Attitude 

You need not be a diver to see the eggs of the following two species.
While carefully lifting up rocks in the intertidal during the Spring, you might
come across these egg masses and possibly even the male guarding them. 

Scalyhead Sculpin

I have never seen scalyhead sculpin eggs while diving, likely because they are hidden away and because they are much smaller. The image of the eggs below was taken during a beach walk where students ensured they put the rock back as best they could to reduce the chances of the eggs drying out. Notice the different colours of the looney-sized egg masses? The eggs in this nest are from at least 4 females.

Male Scalyhead Sculpin in a giant barnacle test. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Scalyhead Sculpin in a giant barnacle test. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Egg masses from at least 4 different female scalyhead sculpins (each female's eggs have a different colour).  © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Photo taken while on a beach walk. Egg masses found under a rock and they are from at least 4 different females (each female’s eggs have a different colour). © 2010 Jackie Hildering

Scalyhead Sculpin (Artedius harringtoni)
Max size: 10 cm
My observations of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: Spring
Previous TMD blog item on the species: Who’s Your Daddy

Black Prickleback

If you find an ice cream scoop mound like this, you have likely found the eggs of the black prickleback and the guarding male is likely very near. When taking students on beach walks, I emphasize the importance of not displacing animals by using this species as an example. Fish like the black prickleback are adapted to being able to wait out the tide in very little water and if the well-intentioned pick up the fish to put him in deeper water, they could be moving papa away from the eggs he was guarding.

Male Black Prickleback guarding egg mass in a tide pool.  © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Male Black Prickleback guarding egg mass in a tide pool. © 2013 Jackie Hildering

Black Prickleback (Xiphister atropurpureus)
Max size: 32.7 cm
Records of egg guarding on NE Vancouver Island: Spring

Sources:

Buffalos Mating . . . Underwater!

That’s right, it’s mating season for buffalos   . . .  buffalo SCULPINS that is!

Male buffalo sculpin guarding eggs. April 1, 2012. Photo: Hildering

Now that I’ve lured you to this posting with the procreation of a huge, shaggy terrestrial mammal on your mind  . . . let me show you the spawn of this wondrous fish.

The buffalo sculpin –  Enophrys bison – has earned the association with buffalo/bison due to the horn-like spine found on each gill plate (operculum). The species can be up to 37 cm long.

As is the case for many species in the sculpin family,  male buffalo sculpins guard the eggs from predators and fan them with their pectoral fins.  Sometimes they guard the eggs laid by multiple females. When you consider that a female can lay between 19,000 and 32,000 eggs, the males have a lot of fertilizing and guarding work to do!  Their guard duty lasts 5 to 6 weeks until the eggs hatch. 

A cascade of eggs below this brilliantly coloured male buffalo sculpin’s chin, April 1st. Still guarding the eggs on April 21st, see image below. Photo: Hildering

The photos in this blog – all taken on April 1st, 2012 – show you the males with their flat heads directly upon a cascade of eggs. The clusters of eggs allowed me to find this incredibly camouflaged fish much more easily than I normally could. When I saw a golden, orange or greenish shiny mass of eggs, I knew a male buffalo sculpin had to be very near by. The bright colour of the eggs suggests that they might be toxic to many species, further protecting them from predation. 

As you can see, the buffalo sculpins’ red, brown and pink colouration makes them very difficult to discern from the similarly brilliantly coloured life around them.  They will remain absolutely still so as not to give away their presence. Their relative, the red Irish lord, has the same survival strategy. (See this previous blog item for photos and information on the red Irish lord.) 

The camouflage, in addition to reducing the risk of predation by bigger fish and harbour seals, allows the buffalo sculpin to be a very successful ambush hunter of shrimps, crabs, amphipods and small fish. It has been suggested that they eat mainly algae since this has so often been found in their gut but I am willing to bet that the algae ends up in their stomachs as a result of the buffalo sculpins grabbing prey ON the algae!

Another male guarding eggs. If you look carefully, you will see the horn-like spines on the fish’s right gill plate. It is these horn-shaped gill protrusions that led to this species getting both its scientific and common name. April 1, 2012. Photo: Hildering

April 1, 2012. Photo: Hildering

The two differently coloured egg masses suggest that this male is guarding the eggs from two different females. April 1, 2012. Photo: Hildering

April 1, 2012. Same male as above photo. Photo: Hildering

Same male guarding eggs 3 weeks later. April 21st. Photo: Hildering

Same male with a new egg mass – May 6. Checked in on him on May 20th and he was no longer guarding eggs. Photo: Hildering

Range: Monterey California to Kodiak Island, Gulf of Alaska. Most often found to a depth of 20 m but have been found to 227 m.

Spawn: February and March. 

Source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife – Biological Synopses of Nearshore Fishes 

The red Irish lord (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus; up to 51 cm) is a fish of incredibly stunning diversity of colour. Right down to its flecked, bulging eyes, this ambush predator is a master of camouflage. 

The remarkable eyes of the red Irish lord. Note flecking on the lens. Photo: Hildering.

But how can you be camoflauged when you’re a fish of insane red and/or orange colouring? When you live in the rich, cold waters of the Northeast Pacific where Nature has doled out colour so liberally, you fade into the background even when so vibrantly coloured. Can you find the red Irish lord in the image below (click the image to enlarge)? 

You can be camouflaged yet insanely coloured, if your world is colourful too. Click to enlarge. Photo: Hildering.

They are a favourite species for we underwater photographers since, as ambush hunters, they remain still even when annoying divers are flashing lights in their eyes or when a crab is sitting on their heads (see below).

What inspires me to now share a blog item on this sculpin species, is the awe I felt upon seeing the diversity in colour among the red Irish on yesterday’s dive. We found four individuals among the pinks, reds, yellows and oranges of sponges, soft corals, hydroids and anemones and of course, we missed many more as they were too well-camouflaged! 

I hope that your sense of wonder is also stimulated in realizing that the red Irish lords are able to change their colour, pattern and shading to match their surroundings! 

Below, meet the four I saw yesterday. 

First red Irish lord we found. Not so brightly coloured as the surroundings were also brown/green. Photo: Hildering

Bright surroundings = brightly coloured individual. Photo: Hildering.

Individual number 3, hoping the crab inches down just a bit further so that s/he can feed (and that the annoying photographer would go away!). Photo: Hildering.

This was such a remarkable photo / learning opportunity but my camera was fogging up. Arg! Photo: Frustrated Hildering.

And the 4th remarkably coloured individual on yesterday’s dive (camera lens still foggy). Photo: Hildering.


For more red Irish Lord photos see this link (includes images of males guarding the eggs and larger versions of the images in this blog item). 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 442 other followers