By Carmelo “Mel” Russo
The eastern slimy sculpin (family Cottidae) is a little known tiny, thumb-shaped fish, not exceeding
four inches in length, that commonly inhabits the shallows of our Finger Lakes. It has large, fan-like pectoral fins as well as over-sized, prominent dorsal and anal fins. The creature is mostly a benthic organism, briefly darting only short distances, a few inches above the bottom, capturing aquatic insects, small fish, and crustaceans as food.
The sculpin is so highly adapted to living in the rocky shoals that the swim bladder (a balloon-like internal organ in fish used for buoyancy) is nonexistent. In addition, because of its masterful camouflage, this little, slippery organism is essentially invisible except during its quick, food gathering swim-spurts or when spooked inadvertently by an aquatic passer-by. Furthermore, the relatively large, bulging eyes of the fish are located superolaterally (on top/side) and give the sculpin a multidirectional, 180 degree view of the world above, while ingeniously mimicking the lake bottom. This allows Cottus cognatus to swiftly and effectively ambush its unsuspecting prey from below.
Another interesting habit of the fish is that the female spawns its orange colored eggs by sticking them to the underside of any rock, which the male prepares as a nest to which the female is attracted. After fertilizing the eggs, the male bravely guards the nest until the eggs hatch, while the female goes off and has a big time feeding in its traditional, crafty way.
The sculpin is an important native food fish for lake trout, especially in springtime, when both creatures are in the cool rocky shoals of the lakes. The plentiful presence of the eastern slimy sculpin in a lake is an indicator of good quality water. Because of its color, broad shaped, flattened mouth, and mostly scaleless skin, it is called the “stonecat.” However, it is not a member of the catfish family.
The “blob,” as it is also known, has been recently threatened by the round goby, an invasive competitor. In addition, success of its spawning habits are at the mercy of manipulated lake levels as well as any heavy siltation of the lakes.
To become closer to this magnificently adapted, wonderful Finger Lakes anomaly, you should buy some lake property or some other real estate near a public park from Senecayuga Properties, LLC, the Finger Lakes specialists. 315-568-9404
References: Hubbs; Fishes of the Great lakes Region, 2004
Palmer; Field Book of Natural History, 1975
© Mel Russo 2016 All Rights Reserved