Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker – the fish, the disc, the marvel

Today I right a great wrong. For how can it be I did not have a blog featuring the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker? This is one of the most cryptic and astoundingly adapted fish in the north Pacific Ocean.

Yesterday, I chanced upon the individual in the photo below and he is what finally catalyzed this blog. Just look at him! He is only about 2 cm long. I noticed him because he was swimming / hovering around like a minuscule zeppelin. Then he alighted on a rock, securing with the pelvic disc this species relies upon.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker who lives in Kwakwaka’wakw Territory near Telegraph Cove.
Photographed November 6, 2021

To be a little, round fish like this, nature had to do something to make sure you don’t roll over. You need to be able to secure, not only to rock, but to seaweeds and Eelgrass. The “solution” is that Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers are among the fish species in which the pelvic fins have evolved into a sucker on their bellies.

This species has very small pectoral fins (even relative to body size) and does not have a swim bladder to help with buoyancy. All the more need to have the disc to be able to hold on between short hovering swims.

My video of a Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker from 2015.

Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers don’t have scales but rather have lumpy, bony plates known as “tubercles”. Maybe these are what the “lump” in their common name refers to.

There have been many creative attempts to describe the overall appearance of Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers from simply “cute” to “pingpong ball with fins”, to “swimming strawberries”, “underwater bumble bees”, and . . . “a fish that has quietly come to terms with looking idiotic”. Thanks Dr. Milton Love for that last descriptor. You can imagine the many jokes and allusions made about their name which “sounds like a Shakespearean insult” (comment made by Angela Flute on YouTube).

The species name Eumicrotremus orbis references their rotundity and size. Maximum known length is 12.7 cm but they are more often much smaller, around 2.5 cm.

I believe the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker we saw yesterday was a male because mature males are reported to be dull orange to reddish brown. Mature females are pale green and have more and larger tubercles.

Another male and you can see part of the pelvic disc. ©Jackie Hildering

The one in Paul Wright’s video below is most definitely a male. See the egg-guarding? Male Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers guard the eggs after fertilizing them, oxygenating them by wafting water over them and protecting them from predators. It’s reported that males die after the eggs hatch and that the females die after egg laying (average of 202 eggs, size of each egg is ~2.2 mm). Outside of when they are breeding, this is a solitary species. Appear to have a life expectancy of around 1 year in aquariums (Casey Cook, pers. com).

It is normal that Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker’s mouths are almost always open and that they appear to be panting (as you see in the video).

Video by W. Paul Wright from 2014with descriptor: “Video taken in Gibsons British Columbia. Male lumpsucker tending to newly laid eggs in discarded Ponds jar.”
Video by Ricky Belanger from 2018.
Video by Victoria High School from 2009 from their aquarium.

Further species information:

Range: Northern Washington to the Bering Sea, along the Aleutian Islands to Siberia and northern Japan. Intertidal to 575 m. Source: Lamb and Edgell, 2010.

Diet: “Small crustaceans such as gammarid andy hyperiid amphipods, along with caprellid amphipods, isopods, and cumaceans” [hooded shrimp species]. Source: Love, 2011.

He’s not smiling. YOU’RE smiling.
©Jackie Hildering


Arita, G. S. (December 01, 1969). Sexual Dimorphism in the Cyclopterid Fish Eumicrotremus orbis. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 26, 12, 3262-3265.

Aquarium of the Pacific – Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker

Cook, Casey, personal communication November 7, 2021

FishBase – Eumicrotremus orbis

Lamb, A., & Edgell, P. (2010). Coastal fishes of the Pacific Northwest. Madeira Park, B.C: Harbour Pub.

Love, M. S. (2011). Certainly more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast: A postmodern experience. Santa Barbara, Calif: Really Big Press.

New York Times, Feb. 25, 2022, The Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker Is Armed to the Teeth – The diminutive predator is a terrible swimmer but thrives in the intertidal zone thanks to odd evolutionary adaptation.

University of Washington – College of the Environment Feb. 8, 2022, , This tiny coastal fish wears a toothy coat of armor

This is the answer to one of my Find the Fish Friday challenges – male Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker.

17 Responses to “Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker – the fish, the disc, the marvel”

  1. rainyday

    Hi Jackie, Loved this post! The Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker is one of my favorite fish! Years ago, the famous fish artist Ray Troll told me it was his favorite too! I always look for them when I visit the Alaska Sealife Center. And now I know a bit more about them. Thanks for the focus, the photos, videos, and references. If I may, under Diet, maybe “ass” should be “as”? Cheers!Carol GriswoldSeward, Alaska

  2. Liz Marshall

    Wonderful post, Jackie, as usual. What a precious fish! Awe-inspiring. 🤗🤗🤗 🌊🌊🌊🌞🌞🌞💙💙💙

      • Liz Marshall

        Of course, Jackie! Your work is artful, energetic, unique and of immense value in educational and inspirational realms. Brava!!!

  3. impossible22

    I loved learning about the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker! The videos are amazing. Most of us will never be able to see such a tiny fish. Thanks.

  4. Celia Lewis

    I’d love to be able to see them in situ, but these videos and your photos/explanations help so much in my experiencing of these charming oddities in our ocean! Put a big smile on my face this morning. 🙂

  5. Wil

    I love these little fish! I’ve only ever seen the larger smooth lumpsuckers, I’m hoping to find a spiny in the wild someday.
    PS so happy to see Dr Love’s massive tome being cited.

      • Wil

        My teenage internet browser history would reveal many many trips to the love lab website. I think I still have some of his fish poems memorized!
        Definitely an inspiration.

  6. Marcel Lalonde

    Lovely still, and videos …
    Had to have the correct lens adjustments in your mask to see that guy properly ! I am thinking your optician is on speed-dial !
    The focusing on this macro subject is quite inspiring !

    Reminds us of the epic energy displacements of humming birds. That disc is quite particular.

    Thanks for the share … I bet that one put a smile on your face for the rest of the day !



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