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Mottled Sculpin



Photo: Gravid Femail 

You don't want to play hide-and-seek with me. I love to chill out in cool, clean headwater streams, but you may never spot me. My brown mottled pattern and pectoral fins make for some dynamic camouflage, which I use to ambush my prey. 

I may look grumpy, but I’m a sign of good water quality…so be happy when see me!

The mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdii) is found throughout the Chicago Wilderness Region, residing at the bottom of rivers, streams, and lakes with gravelly beds. Sculpins are carnivorous, eating larvae, amphipods, insects, other invertebrates, and smaller sculpins, in addition to plants.  


The mottled sculpin thrives in clean headwaters, the sources and origins of our streams and rivers, and is listed as a species in the greatest need of conservation on the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. They are threatened by excessive water pollution resulting from large volumes of clay or silt particles from erosion, as well as the buildup of sediments.


  • While considered to have a wide range of habitat preferences, the presence of mottled sculpins is a sign of good water quality.
  • Due to male sculpins' cannibalistic tendency, females must be careful when searching for mates...or else might be eaten!
  • Females may mate with more than one male, preferring large males which more commonly stay behind to protect the nest.



Advocate for the health of our headwater streams.

Headwaters are the start of our streams and rivers, and too often our headwaters fall victim to urban development or become polluted due to water mismanagement. You can help improve the health of the mottled sculpin's habitat by reducing household water pollution. Additionally, if your home sits next to a river or stream, learn more about maintaining stream buffer



Chicago Wilderness works with lead partner, Openlands, to drive mottled sculpin conservation efforts. They, in turn, coordinate with numerous other organizations across the region. The mottled sculpin conservation effort is part of the Chicago Wilderness Priority Species Focus Area.


Sources: Kid's Inquiry of Diverse SpeciesUSGS