Woolly Sculpin

Woolly Sculpin, Clinocottus analis

The Woolly Sculpin, Clinocottus analis, whose common Spanish name is charrasco lanudo, is a member of the Sculpin or Cottidae Family, known collectively as charrascos espinosos in Mexico. This family includes two hundred seventy-five species that have been placed in seventy genera. This fish is often referred to as the incorrectly spelled Wooly Sculpin. There is also a report that this fish does not belong to the Clinocottus genus. Globally, there are five species in the genus Clinocottus.

The Woolly Sculpins have elongated tapering bodies with large, depressed, flattened, and wide heads. They are speckled and mottled and come in a wide variety of colors, including green, greenish-black, and brown; some also have reddish tinges. Their anal and first dorsal fins have bars and are similar to the body in color; their caudal fin is dark; and their second dorsal fin and pectoral fins are lighter in color with subtle bars. They have the ability to change colors to match their habitat. Their back and head are densely covered with cirri and prickles and the rear of their upper jaw has one or two cirri. They have a pair of large eyes on top of their head and a large broad mouth equipped with numerous small teeth. Their anal fin has 12 to 15 rays; their caudal fin is rounded; and their dorsal fin has 8 to 10 spines and 15 to 18 rays. Their gill covers have a large spine that ends in one or two sharp spines. They have 5 to 7 gill rakers and their lateral line is straight. They do not have scales.

The Woolly Sculpins are found demersal within sand, gravel, small rocks, and bedrock and in intertidal areas among algae beds at depths up to 60 feet; large fish are found in areas with more cover. They reach a maximum length of 18.0 cm (7.0 inches) with males growing faster and becoming larger than females. They are found in water temperatures between 6oC (43oF) and 22oC (77oC) and are non-migratory. They can survive rapid temperature fluctuations and rapid changes in salinity. They also have the ability to breathe air and can survive for up to 24 hours out of water. They are ambush predators that lie in wait and are active 24 hours per day consuming crustaceans, mollusks, and other small benthic prey. Reproduction is oviparous with internal fertilization and spawning occurring in shallow coastal waters. Each female lays several batches of 50 to 1,300 eggs multiple times per year. They are interesting scientifically as their blood plasma is green, which is attributed to the presence of biliverdin. Males have lifespans of up to eight years; females are up to six years.

In Mexican waters, the Woolly Sculpins have a limited distribution being found from just south of Guerrero Negro northward along the central and northwest coasts of Baja.

The Woolly Sculpin are too small to be of interest to most. They have not been evaluated from a conservation perspective but should be considered of Least Concern as they are widely distributed with stable populations and are abundant throughout their range.

Woolly Sculpin, Clinocottus analis. Fish caught from the coastal waters off Half Moon Bay, California, July 2012. Length: 10.0 cm (3.9 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Kenneth Tse, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.