Columbia Sculpin

Cottus hubbsi

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

Description

The Columbia Sculpin is a small freshwater fish. The species is shaped similarly to other sculpins, with a large head and a heavy body that tapers down to the tailfin. Columbia Sculpin have dark mottling on their fins, tails and bodies. They usually have three distinct saddles, which extend from under their soft dorsal fin to about halfway down their bodies. They can grow up to 11 centimetres long. The species can be difficult to distinguish from co-occurring sculpins in the field, even by trained biologists. Columbia Sculpin are often identified using fin ray counts, tooth pattern, lateral line development, head length, body colouration, and the presence of prickles.

Habitat

Columbia Sculpin are endemic to the Columbia River mainstem and tributaries downstream of Arrow Lakes in both Canada and the United States. In British Columbia, the species exists in the Similkameen River, Tulameen River, Kettle River, Columbia River and its tributaries, and Kootenay River and its tributaries.

Columbia Sculpin have broad habitat requirements. They live in rocky, riffle habitats in small streams to large rivers, but may occasionally occur in lakes as well. Adults prefer moderate current, while juveniles prefer shallower, slower moving water. The young-of-the-year live in very shallow water near stream margins. They are sometimes found near submerged vegetation.

Threats

With a limited distribution in Canada, the Columbia Sculpin is particularly vulnerable to localized threats. The species is currently threatened by water use, invasive species, water quality, and land use. Dams for hydropower and flood control have historically changed flow in the species' range. It is unclear whether or not this change in flow has changed the species' abundance. However, it has altered suitable habitat for the Columbia Sculpin. Consumptive water use is another current threat to the species. Water is used for a range of residential and commercial purposes in the area where the Columbia Sculpin is found. Extremely low water flow can reduce available habitat for the species. Invasive species may also have a negative effect on the Columbia Sculpin as they can modify habitat and outcompete the species or prey on it.

Human activities such as agriculture, mining, forestry, and wastewater management occur in this species' range. Several sculpin species are sensitive to changes in water quality and all of these activities can contribute pollution that causes poor water quality. The Columbia watershed has undergone considerable development. The associated land use change threatens the species by directly changing habitat and water runoff.

Since climate affects precipitation, water flow and temperature in many ways, climate change may also influence Columbia Sculpin habitat.

Further Information

Sculpin studies are ongoing under the Columbia Water Use Plan. Their results are and will be included in water management decisions. The Columbia Sculpin is also included within the South Okanagan - Similkameen Conservation Program. This is a multi-species scale approach to conserve species at risk.

This species is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available on the Species at Risk Public Registry.

To find out if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' website.

Columbia Sculpin

Photo Credit: Diana McPhail.

Photo Credit: Diana McPhail.

Scientific name: Cottus hubbsi
SARA Status: Special Concern, Schedule 1
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern (November 2010)
Region: British Columbia

Region map

Region map, British Columbia

Did You Know?

The Columbia drainage system is a “hotspot” of freshwater sculpin (Cottus spp.) evolution. This one river system contains half of the Cottus species in North America. In British Columbia, some small rivers contain up to five species of sculpins! Ecologists and biologists are trying to determine how species similar in morphology and behaviour exist together and became separate species.

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