Fifteen-spined stickleback (Spinachia spinachia)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Spinachia spinachia is commonly known as the fifteen-spined stickleback or sea stickleback. This species characteristically has 14-17 spines in front of the dorsal fin. The body is elongate and slender, becoming very narrow before the tail fin. The pelvic fins are reduced to one spine and one small ray. The anal fin is about level with and equal in length to the dorsal fin. The tail fin is small and rounded. The body is brown or olive above and paler below. There may be dark bars on the flanks. The 15 spined stickleback can be up to 25 cm in length.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

All coasts of Britain and Ireland, but uncommon in the south east.

Global distribution

North east Atlantic, north western Europe.


Spinachia spinachia is a demersal, non migratory fish. This species is marine, extending in to brackish water. It is found singly or in pairs confined to weedy shorelines and inshore waters less than 20 m deep

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Very elongate, slender body becoming narrow before tail fin.
  • 14-17 isolated spines in front of dorsal fin.
  • Pelvic fins represented mainly by a single spine behind the pectoral fins.
  • Body brown or olive above, sometimes with dark bars on the flanks, paler below.
  • Scales absent but flanks bear bony scutes.
  • Body depth less than half the head length.
  • Body length up to 25 cm.
  • Tapering snout with tiny mouth.
  • Dorsal and anal fins are relatively small and almost opposite.
  • Long narrowing peduncle with small rounded tail fin.

Additional information

The male builds a nest of algal fragments, stuck together with a kidney secretion. The female lays 150-200 eggs in the nest and dies shortly after. The male tends the eggs and guards the nest.

Listed by

- none -


  1. Campbell, A., 1994. Seashores and shallow seas of Britain and Europe. London: Hamlyn.

  2. Froese, R. & Pauly, D., 2004. Fishbase. A global information system on fishes. [On-line], 2004-10-18

  3. Howson, C.M. & Picton, B.E., 1997. The species directory of the marine fauna and flora of the British Isles and surrounding seas. Belfast: Ulster Museum. [Ulster Museum publication, no. 276.]

  4. Muus, B.J. & Dahlstrom, P., 1974. Collins guide to the sea fishes of Britain and North-Western Europe. Wm Collins Sons & Co. Ltd: London.

  5. Wheeler, A., 1969. The fishes of the British Isles and north-west Europe. London: Macmillan.

  6. Wheeler, A., 1994. Field Key to the Shore Fishes of the British Isles. Shrewsbury: Field Studies Council.

  7. Whitehead, P.J.P., Bauchot, M.-L., Hureau, J.-C., Nielson, J. & Tortonese, E. 1986. Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Vol. I, II & III. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).


  1. Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, 2018. Ulster Museum Marine Surveys of Northern Ireland Coastal Waters. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Cofnod – North Wales Environmental Information Service, 2018. Miscellaneous records held on the Cofnod database. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  3. Environmental Records Information Centre North East, 2018. ERIC NE Combined dataset to 2017. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-38

  4. Fenwick, 2018. Aphotomarine. Occurrence dataset Accessed via on 2018-10-01

  5. Fife Nature Records Centre, 2018. St Andrews BioBlitz 2014. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  6. Fife Nature Records Centre, 2018. St Andrews BioBlitz 2015. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  7. Fife Nature Records Centre, 2018. St Andrews BioBlitz 2016. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  8. Isle of Wight Local Records Centre, 2017. IOW Natural History & Archaeological Society Marine Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  9. Lancashire Environment Record Network, 2018. LERN Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  10. Manx Biological Recording Partnership, 2017. Isle of Man wildlife records from 01/01/2000 to 13/02/2017. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  11. National Trust, 2017. National Trust Species Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  12. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  13. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-06-23

  14. Outer Hebrides Biological Recording, 2018. Vertebrates (except birds, INNS and restricted records), Outer Hebrides. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.


This review can be cited as:

Oakley, J.A. 2008. Spinachia spinachia Fifteen-spined stickleback. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 23-06-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 24/04/2008