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For other uses, see Stickleback (disambiguation).
Four species of stickleback (Gasterosteidae).jpg
Four marine species of stickleback from the Atlantic Ocean coast of North America
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Subclass: Neopterygii
Infraclass: Teleostei
Order: Gasterosteiformes
Family: Gasterosteidae


The Gasterosteidae are a family of fish including the sticklebacks. They are related to pipefish and seahorses.


FishBase recognises 16 species in the family, grouped in five genera.[1] However, several of the species have a number of recognised subspecies, and the taxonomy of the family is thought to be in need of revision.

Although some authorities give the common name of the family as "sticklebacks and tube-snouts", the tube-snouts are classified in the related family Aulorhynchidae.


Genera include:


Sticklebacks are most commonly found in the ocean, but some can be found in fresh water. The freshwater taxa were trapped in Europe, Asia, and North America after the Ice Age, and have evolved different features from the marine species.

Sticklebacks are carnivorous, feeding on small animals such as insects, crustaceans and fish larvae.[2][3]

Sticklebacks are characterised by the presence of strong and clearly isolated spines in their dorsal fins.[4] An unusual feature of sticklebacks is that they have no scales, although some species have bony armour plates.


The maximum size of the best-known species, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), is about 4 inches, but few of them are more than 3 inches long. They mature sexually at a length of about 2 inches.[5] Most other stickleback species are roughly similar in size or somewhat smaller. The only exception is the far larger fifteen-spined stickleback (Spinachia spinachia), which can reach 22 cm.[6]


All species show a similar mating behaviour, which is also unusual among fish. The males develop a red breast and construct a nest from weeds held together by secretions from their kidneys, then attract females to the nest. The female lays her eggs inside the nest where the male can fertilise them. The male then guards the eggs until they hatch.[3]

1994 Faroe Islands postage stamp,
with Three-spined sticklebacks.

In popular culture[edit]

"Jack Sharp" − a stickleback − is a character in the picture-book The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter.

A 1994 Danish Faroe Islands postage stamp has an image of two Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) created by the artist Astrid Andreasen.


  1. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2012). "Gasterosteidae" in FishBase. October 2012 version.
  2. ^ The Repeater -
  3. ^ a b Orr, James W. & Pietsch, T.W. (1998). Paxton, J.R. & Eschmeyer, W.N., eds. Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 171–172. ISBN 0-12-547665-5. 
  4. ^ Widespread Parallel Evolution in Sticklebacks by Repeated Fixation of Ectodysplasin Alleles by
  5. ^ "Three-spined stickleback". Retrieved 2012-08-31. 
  6. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2014). "Spinachia spinachia" in FishBase. April 2014 version.

External links[edit]