Fish of the Week: 3-spined Stickleback

Greetings fellow fish friends! If you are in the Santa Clara or Monterey/Santa Cruz counties, you should come check out one of your local koi club meetings this week! Guests are greatly encouraged to join. For the Santa Clara club, the meeting will be Tuesday, August 20, at 7:30pm at the Willow Glen Public Library in San Jose. For those of you in Santa Cruz/Monterey, the meeting will be Friday, August 23, at 7:00 p.m. at St John’s Church in Aptos. I will be speaking at both meetings, so you get to meet me too!

This week, we had a request to learn about 3-spined sticklebacks, specifically,

Courtesy of ARKive. Can you see his 3 spines?
Courtesy of ARKive. Can you see his 3 spines?

about their decline in California. 3-spined sticklebacks can be found along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the US. They can be found in marine, brackish (cross between fresh and saltwater, usually where a river/stream meets the ocean), and freshwater habitats. Some populations have evolved to live away from saltwater altogether and thrive in inland freshwater systems (ponds, lakes, rivers, etc.). In California, the 3-spined stickleback has been on the decline, and was listed as endangered back in 1971. A repopulation project was attempted in 1969, however, the strain that was introduced was not of the same species, creating new hybrids of 3-spined sticklebacks. Following an oil spill in 1993, restoration of 3-spined stickleback habitat along the Santa Clara river was initiated. Current efforts involve locating stickleback-friendly habitats for re-introduction. 3-spined sticklebacks will eat eggs of other species, so future attempts at re-introducing this species may have a dramatic impact on other fish and amphibian species in the area.

While you are out and about towards the end of summer, you may encounter the 3-spined stickleback. When I was in college at the University of Rhode Island, I remember catching a bunch of these while doing species sampling throughout the estuaries in between Kingston and the Narragansett Bay. Do not take these fish to your home aquarium. Fish in the wild are used to being able to swim freely and will bring lots of fun diseases to your home aquarium. If you catch them, do not keep them out of the water too long, don’t use your hands to examine them, use a net, and release them gently back to where you found them.

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