Black Prickleback

Authors: Matt Czyz and Garnet Spring

Common name: Black Prickleback

Scientific name: Xiphister atropurpureus

Size: up to 30cm in length

Identifying Features

The Black Prickleback is dark reddish brown to black in color with a pale head. The head is small with approximately three light edged bands radiating from each eye. They are also recognized for having large features, especially a large jaw.


Black Pricklebacks prefer to live in rocky terrain with algae cover. They can be found under rocks and gravel and the smaller ones are commonly found in small tide pools. They are capable of breathing air and can be out of water for up to twenty three hours.  They do this by keeping moist by burrowing under seaweed and wet rocks. Usually they live somewhere around 7.6 meters from the surface. They tend to stay away from areas where fishermen operate.

Food (Prey)

The typical diet of a Black Pricklebacks includes crabs, gammarid amphipods, worms and some varieties of algae.


Black Pricklebacks are mainly hunted by sea birds or other larger “eels” and other fish.  They have adapted to avoid these predators by using their small size and ability to take cover under rocks or in plants. Their size plays a large role as they can hide under or inbetween rocks where other fish as well as gulls and other birds cannot see them or reach them.

Life cycle

Spawning takes places from February to April off the west coast of the United States and from April to mid-May off the coast of British Columbia. Females will lay 700 to 4000 eggs under rocks or other protected areas. The eggs are deposited one by one and fertilized by the male.  They are then shaped into spherical clusters by the mother and father. Males fertilize and guard the eggs from multiple mates.  Black Pricklebacks can live to be thirteen years old but their overall age at maturity is just two years.

Photos by D. Young


BioOne Northwest science (2012) Xiphister atropurpureus.  Retrieved May 11

Hart, J. L. (1988). Pacific fishes of Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Government Publishing Center

Lamb, A. and Edgell, P. (1986) Coastal fishes of the Pacific
Northwest. Madeira Park, BC, Canada. Harbour Publishing.

Oregon State University: Visitor center (2012) Xiphister atropurpureus.  Retrieved May 10, 2012 from

MSAP (2012) Xiphister atropurpureus Retrieved May 11, 2012 from

Xiphister atropurpureus (2012) Retrieved May 10, 2012 from

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply