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Spoonhead Sculpin

Spoonhead Sculpin
Cottus ricei

New York Status: Endangered


Spoonhead Sculpin Image

The spoonhead sculpin has a flat, triangle-shaped head, slender tubular-shaped body, and a well developed semicircular preopercular (cheekbone) spine. Its body has no scales but is covered with prickles (small, fine, curved spines). The gill covers are attached to the breast (or isthmus) and the pectoral (front sides) fins are long and round. The second dorsal (back) fin and the anal (bottom rear) fin are similar in length and shape. Spoonheads usually range from 1.5 to 2.4 inches in length, although one specimen was found to measure 5.3 inches. The tops of their bodies are olive-brown shading to light yellow on the sides and white on the belly. Their heads, bodies and fins are speckled.

Life History

From existing limited information, scientists have determined that spoonhead sculpins spawn in the fall and live in turbid rivers or deep areas of lakes. Scientists theorize that the fish have adapted to these waters because spoonheads have flat heads, large head pores, and small eyes. Although no detailed food studies have been carried out for this species, it is assumed that plankton and bottom-dwelling aquatic insects are important diet items.

Distribution and Habitat

Spoonheads are found mostly in Canada, from the McKenzie River in the northwest to the St. Lawrence River in the east. This fish also lives in the Great Lakes and in Lake Charlevoix, Michigan. In New York, spoonheads were historically taken in Lakes Ontario and Erie, but are now believed to be extirpated.

Population Status

Spoonheads are believed to be locally extinct in Lakes Ontario and Erie. The causes of the decline are unknown.

Management/Research Needs

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will continue to search for and report on spoonhead sculpins in New York waters.

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