SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cottus bairdi

CHARACTERISTICS: Although the pigmentation of Cottus bairdi is variable, nuptial males are usually dark or black with a conspicuous, bright red or orange band on the spiny dorsal fin margin. This banding pattern is also present on the female but is generally less intense, and the body color is more brown or golden. The saddle pattern across the back is more diffuse on C. bairdi than on the banded sculpin, C. carolinae, but C. bairdi has a distinct, narrow, vertical tail band at the caudal fin base. The soft dorsal and anal fins of breeding mottled sculpins are long, and when depressed, their rays extend to the caudal fin base. Male sculpins have short and stout heads. Females have longer heads and shorter rays in their dorsal and anal fins. Two distinct lines are visible along the sides of this species. The lateral line is incomplete, ending near the posterior end of the soft dorsal fin. A second line extends to the caudal base.

ADULT SIZE: 1.7 to 3.1 in (43 to 80 mm)

DISTRIBUTION: Cottus bairdi is distributed from eastern Canada southward through the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi basin to the Tennessee River drainage and upper Coosa River system in Alabama. Populations are also known from the Ozarks region in Missouri and Arkansas and from the upper Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest areas. Mottled sculpins occur in upland habitats in Jackson and extreme west Lauderdale counties in the Tennessee drainage. Populations also inhabit streams of the upper Coosa River system in Georgia and Tennessee.

HABITAT AND BIOLOGY: Mottled sculpins prefer clear, fast-flowing waters with substrates of boulders, broken rubble, and flat rocks. Spawning is earlier than that of most other sculpin species, with nuptial individuals found from February through April. In riffles around boulders or other protected zones, males establish and defend nesting areas; after spawning, they continue to guard the nests until the fry leave. Nagel (1980) reports that mottled sculpins may live for up to six years. Cottus bairdi consumes crayfishes, fishes (including other sculpins), and all sizes of aquatic insects.

ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: The mottled sculpin was described by Girard in 1850.

Cottus means and old name for a miller’s-thumb.
Bairdi is in honor of Spencer F. Bairdi, the first United States fish commissioner and a prominent ichthyologist in the 1800s.

The copyrighted information above is from the Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Basin.