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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Rocky Mountain Sculpin - Cottus bondi

Native Species

Global Rank: GNR
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status


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General Description
The Rocky Mountian sculpin is a species that was previously known as the mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdi) in Montana, but recent genetic work has proven that the mottled sculpin doesn't exist this far east and the "mottled" sculpin in Montana is more closely related to the sculpins of Russia than to the eastern US. Cottus bondi has been described from British Columbia with similar relatives in Alberta and likely Idaho. This species is highly camouflaged with it's surroundings as it blends in with the rocks (see picture). The Rocky Mountain Sculpin is a native fish, widespread in Montana in mountain streams east and west of the Continental Divide.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The back and sides are slate to brown with mottling and dark blotches. They may have two or three dark saddles under the second dorsal fin. The underside is whitish. The first dorsal fin is fringed with orange or red on breeding males. Palatine teeth are present.

Species Range
Montana Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 974

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

They prefer riffle and run areas of fast to moderately-flowing streams that are clear and have cobble to gravelly benthic substrates.

Food Habits
Like all sculpins, this species is a benthic insectivore meaning it eats primarily aquatic insects. They occasionally eat small fish or trout eggs but this is not a large part of their diet. Their diet includes a variety of immature aquatic organisms, but midge and caddis larvae are by far the most important. A study in southwest Montana showed bottom-dwelling aquatic insects comprising 99.7% of the diet.

The species serves as a forage fish for predators, often trout.

Reproductive Characteristics
They are sexually mature in 2 years. Spawning occurs in May-June. The eggs hatch in 20-30 days at 50-60 degrees F. A southwest Montana study showed spawning throughout the month of June.

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Citation for data on this website:
Rocky Mountain Sculpin — Cottus bondi.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from