Text Size: A  A  A

Sticklebacks

Threespine sticklebacks vary in color from gray to olive to brown, with black speckles all over. They have bony plates running along their sides and three spines on their back. (N Sloth/Biopix)
{photos} {photo} {title} - {description} {/photo} {/photos}
Threespine sticklebacks vary in color from gray to olive to brown, with black speckles all over. They have bony plates running along their sides and three spines on their back. (N Sloth/Biopix)

Sticklebacks are small, scaleless fish with spines along their back in front of their dorsal fin.

Two species of sticklebacks can be found in the Chesapeake Bay:

  • Threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Fourspine stickleback, Apeltes quadracus

Appearance:

  • Threespine sticklebacks vary in color from gray to olive to brown, with black speckles all over. They have bony plates running along their sides.
  • Fourspine sticklebacks vary in color from brownish-green to black with dark, mottled patterns. They have a bony ridge on either side of the abdomen.
  • Threespines have three spines on their back (two large and one small). Fourspines have four spines on their back (three large and one that is attached to the dorsal fin).
  • Grow to 2-4 inches. Fourspines are a bit smaller than threespines.

Habitat:

  • Found mostly in shallow, vegetated areas near the Bay’s shoreline
  • Fourspine sticklebacks move to deeper channels in winter

Range:

  • Threespine sticklebacks visit the Bay during winter and spring, venturing as far north as Kent Island, Maryland
  • Fourspine sticklebacks are found throughout the Bay year-round

Feeding:

  • Mainly eat tiny crustaceans

Predators:

  • Larger fish

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Threespine sticklebacks are anadromous, spawning from late February-September in the fresh and brackish waters of the Bay’s western shore rivers
  • Male threespines develop a reddish belly during breeding
  • The male builds a ball-shaped nest of leaves in the soft, muddy bottom, into which the female lays 75-100 eggs
  • The male cares for the eggs until they hatch and the young are able to take care of themselves
  • Fourspine sticklebacks spawn in late April-early May among bay grasses beds near the shoreline
  • Male fourspines have bright red pelvic fins during breeding
  • The male uses grasses and weeds to build a cup-shaped nest
  • One or more females lays eggs into the nest
  • The protective male guards the eggs and young for several weeks, keeping the nest clean and attacking other fish that swim too close
  • Sticklebacks can live for 1-3 years

Other Facts:

  • One of the most scientifically studied non-game fishes

Sources and Additional Information:




Click tabs to swap between type and habitat.

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved