Physical Description

  • A rather flat fish with large flat head and tapered tail.
  • Large head has small eyes and long jaws that extend past eyes.
  • Gill covers extend into antler-like projections with 3-4 spines, hence the name staghorn.
  • Smooth skin with grayish-olive coloration on back, yellowish on sides, and white on belly.
  • Adults can reach a length of 14 inches.


  • Southeastern Bering Sea, coast of Alaska, to Bahia San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico.


  • Live in shallow waters, like bays, estuaries, and oceanfront.
  • They prefer salt and brackish waters; but they can adapt to freshwater or hypersaline (extra salty) water.
  • Larvae start in estuaries in sand. As juveniles, they head to salt or freshwater. They can stay in freshwater for up to 6 weeks.
  • Adults live offshore, as bottom-dwelling fish.


  • Throughout the West Coast, spawning occurs in salt water or brackish water from October to April.
  • In California, spawning occurs from January to February.
  • The larvae begin their lives in the estuary, where they spread out onto soft and sandy substrates.
  • Most fish in freshwater or brackish waters are the younger juveniles


  • Juveniles eat amphipods, invertebrates, small fish, aquatic insect larvae.
  • Older staghorn sculpin eat crabs, shrimp, fishes, polychaete worms, mollusks, invertebrates, anchovy.


  • Striped bass, Great blue heron, Caspian tern, Western grebes, harbor seals, river otters, sea lions, leopard sharks.

Interesting Facts

  • When stressed, they can expand their gill covers and emit a low-pitched humming sound.
  • They can breathe air when out of the water, and can leave the tide pools if the water becomes inhospitable!

Sources: UC Davis; Fishbase;; California Water Board

Photo: Herb Gruenhagen