The Cottidae family of sculpins is made up of more than 300 species, most of which are marine, but many of which also occur in freshwaters throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They are important as food for larger ﬁsh and as predators of the eggs and the young of gameﬁsh. Bottom-dwelling ﬁsh of cold waters, sculpins live in shelf waters and in rocky tidal pools. A few species of larger sculpins inhabit depths of up to 4,200 feet in saltwater.
Sculpins are characterized by wide bodies that taper to slender, compressed tails. They may be unscaled or may have spiny prickles or platelike scales, although the development of these varies within species, depending on habitat, and is not necessarily useful in identiﬁcation.
All sculpins have a bony support beneath each eye, which connects bones with the front of the gill covers. The dorsal ﬁns are deeply indented between the spiny and the soft-rayed portions, and the pectoral ﬁns are large and fanned. The color and the pattern vary, although they are mainly mottled with various shades and are protectively camouﬂaged by their mottled pattern.
Sculpins are primarily carnivorous, clinging to the bottom and pouncing on small invertebrates, crustaceans, and mollusks for food. Of the marine species, the cabezon, or great marbled sculpin (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus), is the largest and best known, weighing up to 30 pounds. It is good table fare and is a coveted catch in California waters.
The staghorn sculpin (Leptocottus armatus) inhabits the same waters as does the cabezon and is sometimes caught accidentally by anglers and used for bait. The grunt sculpin (Rhamphocottus richardsonii) is so called because of the noises it makes when removed from the water. It is featured in aquariums.
Label: saltwater fish