May 2008

During May, the VIMS Juvenile Fish Survey noted the presence of several of Chesapeake Bay’s lesser known fish species. Although these fishes are either annual visitors to the Bay or year round residents, their somewhat elusive habits make them less visible to the general public than species like Summer Flounder or Atlantic Croaker. Three of these unique fish species are the Lined Seahorse, Atlantic Cutlassfish, and Threespine Stickleback.

Seahorses, in general, are recognizable to most people because of their uniquely shaped body, but few are aware that Lined Seahorses are residents of the Bay. Of the species mentioned earlier, the Lined Seahorse is the only year-round resident of Chesapeake Bay. Lined Seahorses are distributed as far north in the Bay as southern Maryland and live in a variety of habitats usually with some sort of bottom structure (sponges, vegetation) to which they can hold fast with their tail and ambush small prey items. In our area the Lined Seahorse may reach 6 inches in total length.

The Atlantic Cutlassfish is an unusual looking fish found in Chesapeake Bay waters from early spring through autumn. When caught on hook and line, anglers often refer to this thin silvery gray fish with an impressive set of teeth as a “ribbonfish.” Atlantic Cutlassfish, which may attain lengths to 4 feet, are generally captured in deeper areas with muddy substrate.

The Threespine Stickleback is a diminutive fish rarely exceeding 4 inches in length and holds the distinction of being the smallest anadromous species in our area. Anadromous fish are those fish that live their lives at sea but spawn in fresh water. As their name implies, Threespine Sticklebacks have three stout spines that make up a portion of their dorsal fin. During late winter and spring, male sticklebacks construct small tubular or barrel shaped nests in which the female will deposit her eggs. During this time, male sticklebacks are very territorial and may attack other males thought to be invading their territory.