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Mailed sculpin Triglops ommatistius Gilbert 1913

[Jordan and Evermann, 1896-1900, p. 1923, Triglops pingeli (Reinhardt), 1832, in part.]

[Gilbert, Proceedings, U. S. National Museum, vol. 44, 1913, p. 465.]

Mailed sculpin (Triglops ommatistius)

Figure 227.—Mailed sculpin (Triglops ommatistius), off Chebucto, Nova Scotia. From Jordan and Evermann. Drawing by H. L. Todd.


The most distinctive feature of this sculpin, apart from its very long anal fin, is that it has a row of about 45 broad plate-like scales along its lateral line on each side, with smaller spiny scales below the dorsal fins, while the skin of the sides lower down is gathered in obliquely transverse folds. The body, too, is more tapering than that of our other sculpins, the caudal peduncle more slender, and the tail fin is smaller. Furthermore, the head is smaller and smoother than in any of the sculpins that are common in the Gulf of Maine, with short spines and many prickles. The first dorsal fin (10 to 12 spines) originates over the [page 442] bases of the pectorals and is higher than the second dorsal, but only about half as long. The second dorsal has 20 to 25 rays. The anal fin is similar to the second dorsal in form and stands below it, but is a little shorter (20 to 22 rays). The ventral fins (each with 3 rays as is the rule among sculpins) reach about as far back as the rear end of the first dorsal, while the pectorals (17 rays) are of the fanlike shape usual among sculpins. The males have a very large and noticeable anal papilla.


Olive above; white, yellowish or orange below. There are four dusky blotches above the lateral line on each side, one on the caudal peduncle, one passing through the first dorsal fin, and two passing through the second dorsal fin. The fins are variously marked with yellowish and with gray-black. The first dorsal of the male has a dusky blotch between the first and second spines and another between the seventh and tenth spines; the second dorsal is marked with three horizontal olivaceous bars. Females lack the blotches on the first dorsal fin; and their second dorsal is marked with narrow lines of dots.


This is a small species, probably growing to about 8 inches, the maximum that is recorded for its European representative.[65] The largest yet recorded for the Gulf of Maine was 6 inches long.


Little is known of its habits beyond the bare fact that it is a bottom fish, like other sculpins. Any that breed in the Gulf of Maine probably spawn in midsummer, Cox[66] having reported a ripe female at Cape Breton in July. Its eggs were pinkish, 2 mm. in diameter, with many oil globules. Presumably the eggs sink like those of other sculpins. The European mailed sculpin is known to eat worms and various crustaceans, and the diet of the American form is the same, probably.

General range—

Sculpins of this general type are circumpolar, ranging south to Cape Cod along the American coast and to the Baltic on the European side of the Atlantic, in rather deep water. But they show a tendency to split up into local races, the constancy of which is yet to be tested by a study of large series. Newfoundland specimens, for example, differ so much from typical Triglops ommatistius in the arrangement and number of folds of skin along the sides that Gilbert[67] has dignified them with a separate name (as the subspecies terranovae of species ommatistius); and both the eastern American forms are distinguished from the east Greenland and European mailed sculpins by the presence of the eyespot on the first dorsal fin of the male (which the European form lacks) and by slightly fewer fin rays. We do not feel convinced, however, that all these forms, together with the Bering Sea form (Triglops beanii Gilbert, 1895), will not finally prove to be local varieties of a single wide-ranging species.

Occurrence in the Gulf of Maine—

Judging from the scarcity of records this cold water fish is uncommon in the Gulf of Maine. Specimens have been recorded from the neighborhood of St. Andrews in the Bay of Fundy, in 15 fathoms (reported by Huntsman); a few from Massachusetts Bay and from off Race Point, Cape Cod (now or formerly in the collection of the Boston Society of Natural History); 11 others now in the United States National Museum were from Gloucester, Cape Cod, and Georges Bank; we have trawled them near Mount Desert; in Massachusetts Bay; off Cape Ann; off Cape Cod; and around the northern slope of Georges Bank, in depths of 20 to 140 fathoms in various months from spring to autumn; and two were trawled on the southeast slope of Georges[68] by the Albatross III, July 17, 1948, in 45 fathoms. Our most southerly record for it was about 10 miles east of Chatham, Mass.

The fact that Gilbert found differences between the Gulf of Maine and Newfoundland specimens, with others from Chebucto Head (Nova Scotia) and from Georges Bank intermediate between them, suggests that the mailed sculpin is a permanent resident of the inner parts of the Gulf, rather than that it appears there only as a wanderer, past Cape Sable, from the east and north.

Eastward and northward from our Gulf, this sculpin is described as being rather common to numerous on the outer Nova Scotian fishing grounds, and as one of the characteristic members of the fish fauna of the icy cold water on the Banks and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.[69]

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It is also reported off Bonne Bay on the west coast of Newfoundland, in the Strait of Belle Isle, and from the south coast of Newfoundland. It is so widespread on the eastern part of the Grand Banks that it was taken at 18 stations there on the cruises of the Newfoundland Fisheries Research Commission. It is also reported off the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula, and off Sandwich Bay on the outer coast of Labrador.

[65] Collett, Norske Nordhaus-Expedition, 1876-78, Zool., Fiske, 1880, p. 38.

[66] Contrib. Canad. Biol. (1918-1920) 1921, p. 111.

[67] Proc. U. S. Nat. Mus., vol. 44, 1913, p. 467.

[68] Latitute 40° 48' N., longitute 66° 31' W. (Arnold, Copeia 1949, p. 299).

[69] See Huntsman, Trans. Royal Soc. Canada, Ser. 3, vol. 12, Sect. 4, 1918, pp. 61-67, for a very interesting account of the fishes that are characteristic of the different water layers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.