A closer look at what puts the “lump” in our Pacific spiny lumpsuckers

Puget Sound is home to some pretty unique species, but one lumpy fish that calls our waters home is so ugly, that we here at the Aquarium think it is cute! Difficult to spot due to their amazing camouflage and smaller size, the Pacific spiny lumpsucker is a great example of the incredible diversity and adaptability of species that call the Salish Sea home.

Sometimes described as a swimming golf ball, the lumpsucker is known for its awkward swimming motion and the comical way it maneuvers throughout its environment. An outstanding feature of the Pacific spiny lumpsucker is its pelvic fins which are fused into a modified suction cup that it uses to fasten itself to rocks or other surfaces and blend into their surroundings.

The other unique feature that helps give the lumpsucker their name are the unique bumps found all over its body. Called tubercles, these bony protrusions of the skeleton provide a coat of armor for these adorable, slow moving fish. You can imagine that being covered in bony armor would weigh a fish down, but the lumpsucker’s skeleton is made of cartilage to help with buoyancy. Plus, this fish has a good dose of jelly deposits under the skin, also helping it float.

This amazing image (above) was created by Leo Smith with the University of Kansas for a paper he plans to submit to the American Society of Icthyologists and Herpetologists on the skeleton of the Pacific spiny lumpsucker. Smith used cow stomach enzymes to dissolve the fish’s muscle, leaving the skeleton behind, which was then dyed for an even better view. The incredible image better shows the unique bumps and armor that are all over the lumpsucker’s body.

These jelly-filled, lumpy fish are some of our favorites here at the Aquarium and we are excited to have some on display in our Puget Sound Fish exhibit. Come visit us so you can get a closer look, or join us for some fun upcoming events like Aquarium After Hours (age 21+) or Family Science Weekend where you can get up participate in hands-on science with the whole family.  We hope to see you soon!

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