A Sculpin is a fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 that belongs to the order Scorpaeniformes
Scorpaeniformes is an order of ray-finned fish, but it has also been called the Scleroparei.They are known as "mail-cheeked" fishes due to their distinguishing characteristic, the suborbital stay: a backwards extension of the third circumorbital bone across the cheek to the preoperculum, to which...

, suborder Cottoidei and superfamily Cottoidea, that contains 11 families, 149 genera, and 756 species. These totals will likely change as more molecular work is done.


The currently recognized families are:
  • Abyssocottidae
    The deep-water sculpins are a small family, Abyssocottidae, of sculpins that are almost entirely restricted to Lake Baikal in Siberia, most of them living at depths below 170 m....

    : deepwater Baikal sculpins (22 species [spp])
  • Agonidae: poacher (fish)
    Poacher (fish)
    The poachers are a family of small bottom-dwelling cold-water marine fish. They are also known as alligatorfishes, starsnouts, hooknoses, and rockheads. Poachers are notable for having elongated bodies covered by scales modified into bony plates, and for using their large pectoral fins to move in...

     (47 spp)
  • Bathylutichthyidae: the Antarctic sculpin (1 sp)
  • Comephoridae: Baikal oilfishes (2 spp)
  • Cottidae
    The Cottidae is a family of demersal fish in the order Scorpaeniformes, suborder Cottoidei . There are about 300 species in 70 genera of Cottidae that are mostly marine and found in shallow coastal waters in the northern and arctic regions...

    : common sculpins (~275 spp)
  • Ereuniidae
    Ereuniidae is a family of scorpaeniform fishes. They are native to deep marine waters around Japan. The lower four rays of the pectoral fin are elongated and free.-Species:There are three species in two genera:* Genus Ereunias...

    : deepwater sculpins (3 spp)
  • Hemitripteridae: searavens (8 spp)
  • Psychrolutidae
    The fish family Psychrolutidae contains the fatheads or fathead sculpins, including the blobfishes. There are 9 genera and about 30 species. This poorly known family consists of bottom-dwelling marine sculpins shaped like tadpoles, with large heads and bodies that taper back into small, flat tails...

    : fathead sculpins (35 spp)
  • Rhamphocottidae: the grunt sculpin
    Grunt sculpin
    The grunt sculpin or grunt-fish, Rhamphocottus richardsonii, is the only member of the fish family Rhamphocottidae. It is native to temperate coastal waters of the North Pacific, from Japan to Alaska and south to California where it inhabits tide pools, rocky areas, and sandy bottoms at depths of...

     (1 sp)

The vast majority of these families live in salt water; only the Abyssocottids, Comephorids, and a few species of Cottids live in fresh water. These bottom feeders are generally considered edible, and have sharp spines rather than scales. Sculpin can live for several hours out of water if kept moist. They use their large pectoral fins to stabilize themselves on the floor of flowing creeks and rivers.

The freshwater ones are called "muddlers", "Miller's Thumbs" or "Skull Fish" and are often used as bait for brown trout and bass. Saltwater staghorn sculpins are used as bait for large Pacific striped bass. All but the staghorn have large, sharp teeth, and some, like the large sea raven
Sea raven
Sea ravens are a family, Hemitripteridae of scorpaeniform fishes. They are bottom-dwelling fishes that feed on small invertebrates, found in the northwest Atlantic and north Pacific oceans...

, can inflict serious bites on people. Their venomous spines are on both dorsal fins, the pectoral fins, pelvic fins, anal fins, and several on the gill cover.


Sculpin stings are very painful and are often associated with swelling and reddening of the affected area. The most common treatment for a sculpin sting is to submerge the stung area in warm to hot water. The heat helps to denature the proteins in the poison and to relieve the pain of the sting.
Sculpin are found in both fresh and salt water.

Further reading

  • McClane, AJ. "McClanes guide to freshwater fishes of North America" and "McClanes Guide to Saltwater fishes of North America". The New Fishing Encyclopedia.
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