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Lumpsucker Fish: Just When You Thought the Ocean Couldn’t Get More Lumpy and Adhesive

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Balloon Lumpsuckers Displayed In Tokyo

Balloon lumpsuckers at the Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium in Tokyo, Japan in 2008. Purchased from Getty.

Available for birthday parties, weddings and corporate functions in the Under the Sea region, the lumpsucker is a chubby, almost-spherical fish with modified pelvic fins that have evolved into adhesive discs on their undersides. So literally lumps with suckers.

Lumpsuckers belong to the family Cyclopteridae, which consists of almost 30 known species. And there’s plenty of variation here – there are Smooth Lumpsuckers (Aptocyclus ventricosus) and Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers (Eumicrotremus orbis). Other species have common names that wouldn’t sound out of place in a skincare commercial for witches – pimpled, bumpy, toad, and leatherfin. They come in various sizes, some adorable, such as the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, which on average grows to around 2.5 cm long (see pic below), and then there’s Cyclopterus lumpus, which can stretch to around 35 to 55 cm long in females and up to 40 cm long in males.

Lumpsuckers found in the cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans, particularly off the coast of Iceland, and in European waters from Murmansk in Russia down to the Bay of Biscay off the coast of Bordeaux in France. They’re also found around the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and off parts of the North American coast. An important part of Icelandic cuisine for centuries, the males are considered a delicacy, while the females apparently taste horrible and are prized less for their flesh and more for their eggs, which can be sold for good money as roe.

lumpsuckers

Toad Lumpsuckers (Eumicrotremus phrynoides - middle two) and Pacific Spiny Lumpsuckers (Eumicrotremus orbis - top and bottom), demonstrating adhesive pelvic discs. Credit: NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Other than looking like swollen eyeballs… with eyeballs… lumpsuckers have some pretty strange things going on. For one, they’re pretty awful swimmers, thanks to their round bodies and tiny fins, and when disturbed they tend to flap around aimlessly in different directions. Which is not how escape generally happens. As newly hatched larvae they are surprisingly well developed, equipped with a fully functional mouth and well-developed digestive system. This allows them to begin feeding on tiny crustaceans and fish just 10 days after hatching. Sometimes they’ll resort to eating each other because nature.

During the first year of their lives, these juveniles spend most of their time around algae clumps, either floating free or attaching themselves to the algae using their sucker discs. Then they’ll progress to pelagic habitats – the open ocean closer to the surface – which is kind of the opposite of what most fish tend to do. As adults, they’ll spend much of the rest of their lives in the open ocean, the females ending up significantly larger than the males, and significantly less interested in parental obligations.

In fact, the males pretty much do all the parenting. During breeding season, lumpsucker males and females migrate inshore to meet and spawn. The males will arrive before the females so they have enough time to prepare a suitable nest, usually in a bedrock crevice or a depression in the sea floor. Once the females arrive, carrying around 100,000 to 350,000 eggs each, they’ll deposit a batch in the nest of their choice and leave. The males will use their suction discs to anchor themselves next to their brood and spend the next 3 – 8 weeks defending the eggs and ensuring they get enough oxygen by waving water over them with their fins. Once the eggs have hatched, the males will return to their solitary lives in the open ocean, perhaps destined to spend their days attached to balloons in a novelty Japanese aquarium exhibit:

And you haven’t seen a fish making expressions until you’ve seen a lumpsucker making expressions:

Related posts:

How the sharksucker got its suction disc

Eunice aphroditois is rainbow, terrifying

All the Presidents’ fish: Five new species named after American Presidents

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Order my book, Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals from Amazon.

 

Bec Crew About the Author: Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science writer and award-winning blogger. She is the author of 'Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals' (NewSouth Press). Follow on Twitter @BecCrew.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Spironis 2:19 pm 01/27/2014

    A fish of value and significance would be endangered. We must help ourselves to them so that we will need to help them.

    http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-the-program/in-assessment/north-east-atlantic/icelandic_gillnet_lumpfish/assessment-downloads-1/20130923_PCDR_LUM339.pdf
    178 pages. Find a conclusion.

    Link to this
  2. 2. vagnry 12:14 am 01/28/2014

    Cyclopterus lumpus, lumpfish, is considered a delicacy in Scandinavia, especially the roe, and is in season right now.

    The meat is gelatinous, but nice when smoked, we just had a smoked lumpfish yesterday.

    Link to this

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