Three-Spine Stickleback

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis stickleback is equally suited to live in fresh and brackish waters. It is widespread along the shores of the northern Atlantic and PacificOceans. In the Pskov-PeipsiLake it is rather rare.

This species’ body is quite wide, compressed on the sides, with a short caudal peduncle. Instead of the scales, the body is covered with bone plates, like a shell. The head is pointed. The moderately sized mouth is terminal. There are three large spines before the dorsal fin. The pelvic fins morphed into spines. It grows up to 4-6 cm in freshwater. Its coloration is variable: in freshwater species it is greenish brown and silvery in the young. When spawning in spring, the breast and belly in males become magenta-red, back turns emerald-green, and eyes change to ultramarine. Females present dark stripes on the flanks, and the silvery white underside becomes pale yellow.

When breeding, males are very hostile and mating fights often end in death, with either side literally ripped up by the spines. In spring males build nests in quiet shallows, between stems of aquatic plants, given permanent but moderate current. They use torn pieces of water plants and other vegetative matter, gluing them with sticky threads and anchoring them to stems. Nests vary in size: sometimes it is the size of a walnut, another time it is as big as a teacup. After that the male drives a female into the nest. In a few seconds it spends in the nest, the female lays up to 100 eggs. As soon as it is done, the male ousts her, milts the roe and in a short while goes out looking for another mate to add on more roe to the batch. The process is iterated 2-3 times till big enough roe batch is built – usually of 150-180 eggs. After this the male vigilantly guards the nest, furiously attacking anything approaching it, repairs it, cleans and aerates the roe fanning it with its fins by fresh water. The eggs develop for 8-14 days, depending on the water temperature. Sometimes males keep their watch of the fry a month or so longer, guarding them and not letting them go too far from the nest. Fry keep to the shore in small schools amidst marine grass until fall, and then leave to deeper spots. The life expectancy of the three-spine stickleback is 3-4 years. It matures in the south by the end of their first year, while in the White Sea this is delayed by two more years. It feeds on small crustaceans, insect larvae, worms, ova and fry of other fish.

For fisheries, sticklebacks are the typical coarse fish. It is of small commercial value, although its fat may be used in medicine, culinary, as well as in manufacture of linoleum, certain lacquers and other products. The brilliant orange fat of the stickleback contains about 5% of carotenoids, and its use on wounds gives perfect results.

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