Shorthead Sculpin

Cottus confusus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

Sculpins are fish with relatively large heads and cone-shaped bodies. This group of species lacks a swim bladder and is quite sedentary, spending much of its time at the bottom of its habitat. The Shorthead Sculpin grows to be just over 10 centimetres long and has a short but large head with a large mouth. Shorthead Sculpins are light brown or olive on their backs with slightly darker saddles under their dorsal fin. In breeding males, the first dorsal fin is black with an orange edge. The top of the head and nape of a Shorthead Sculpin are often peppered with small, dark spots.

The species can be distinguished from similar sculpins, such as the Torrent Sculpin, by its prickle pattern and lateral line length. Shorthead Sculpins have a single dense patch of prickles behind their pectoral fins and incomplete lateral lines.

Habitat

The Shorthead Sculpin is only found in northwestern North America in the Columbia River Basin. In Canada, the species is found in the Kootenay River, Slocan River, Kettle River, and the mainstem and tributaries of the Columbia River. The distribution of the Shorthead Sculpin within its range is fragmented naturally.

The species exists as one designatable unit in British Columbia with three populations. These are the Columbia population, a Kootenay/Slocan population, and a Kettle River population.

The Shorthead Sculpin is a cool-water species that is most abundant in riffle and run habitats. The species is rare in the mainstem Columbia River and is usually found in the mouths of tributary streams or in smaller streams. It is often found associated with large gravel and cobble-sized rock bottoms used for shelter and breeding. Small juveniles are sometimes found along the edges of steams in shallow, quiet water. They are often found amongst seasonally flooded vegetation for protection. Shorthead Sculpins spend most of their daylight hours sheltering in or on the substrate.

The Shorthead Sculpin likely does not stray far from its home range.

Threats

The Shorthead Sculpin is very sensitive to changes in water quality and its habitat. As a whole, the species is vulnerable to a range of human-caused threats. These include water use, flow regulation, sedimentation and pollution from agriculture, forestry, mining, and urbanization, and climate change. The introduction of non-native predatory species is also a concern because of the limited distribution of this fish.

There are also more specific threats to each of the three Canadian populations. For example, the Kettle River population lives in a very small area that has the warmest environment within the species' range. In the past, the area had several fish kill events caused by extreme high temperature and low water. Water extraction from the area can further increase this problem. The Columbia population is particularly threatened by water use and flow regulation. The area currently has dairy farms, orchards and several water extraction licences. Furthermore, water quality could be greatly decreased from too much sediment and organic input from the surrounding area's agricultural activities.

Further Information

Studies have been conducted on the species' taxonomy, distribution and genetics. Sculpin studies are also completed as part of the Columbia River Water Use Plan. Their results are and will continue to be included in water management decisions.

This species is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

To find out if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' website.

Shorthead Sculpin

Shorthead Sculpin. Photo Credit: Diana McPhail

Shorthead Sculpin
Photo Credit: Diana McPhail

Scientific Name: Cottus confusus
SARA Status: Special Concern, Schedule 1 
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern (November 2010)
Region: British Columbia

Region map

Region map, British Columbia

Did You Know?

The Kettle River population of Shorthead Sculpin is particularly vulnerable. It is restricted to only 5 kilometres of watercourse, and this population is exposed to the most extremely warm temperatures within the species’ Canadian range.

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