sculpin, common name for a member of the large family Cottidae, bizarre fishes with large, spiny or armored heads and short, tapering bodies, found in both marine and freshwater habitats. The family includes the muddlers and some species called bullheads. Sculpins are cosmopolitan in arctic and northern waters. They feed at the bottom on crabs and small fishes. Of little food value, they are occasionally used as bait. The longhorned sculpin (1 ft/30 cm) and the shorthorned sculpin have sharp spines on the head. Sculpins have no scales, but are variously adorned with prickles on the head and fins. The sea raven has large teeth and a prickly skin and swells when caught. The cabezon of the Pacific reaches a weight of 25 lb (11.3 kg). The muddlers are a widespread freshwater group found in northeastern and Mississippi basin streams with gravel bottoms. They have huge pectoral fins shaped like butterfly wings with which they hang onto stones. The grotesque sea robins and flying gurnards, with fins modified into "wings" and "talons" for creeping on the ocean floor, resemble the sculpins but are of a different family. Sculpins are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Perciformes, family Cottidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.