Pacific Staghorn Sculpin
Leptocottus armatus

Physical Description

  • Large flat head, small eyes, long jaws extend past eyes
  • Gill covers extend into antler-like projections with 3-4 spines, hence the name staghorn
  • Smooth skin, grayish-olive on back, yellowish on sides, white on belly
  • Reach a length of 14 inches


  • Southeastern Bering Sea, coast of Alaska, to Bahia San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico


  • Shallow waters, bays, estuaries, oceanfront
  • Salt and brackish waters; can adapt to freshwater or hypersalty water
  • Larvae start in estuaries in sand. As juveniles, head to salt or freshwater. Can stay in freshwater for up to 6 weeks.
  • Adults live offshore, as bottom-dwelling fish.


  • Juveniles eat amphipods, invertebrates, small fish, aquatic insect larvae
  • Older staghorn sculpin eat crabs, shrimp, fishes, polychaete worms, mollusks, invertebrates, anchovy


  • Striped bass, Great blue heron, Caspian tern, Western grebes, harbor seals, river otters, sea lions, leopard sharks

Interesting Facts

  • When stressed, they can expand their gill covers and emit a low-pitched humming sound.
  • They can breathe air when out of water, and can leave tide pools if the water becomes inhospitable!

Sources: UC Davis; Fishbase;; California Water Board

Photo: Herb Gruenhagen

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