River Kennet Creature Feature – Sticklebacks

Ferocious Fathers of the River Kennet – Sticklebacks

In nearly every natural pond and stream across the UK – especially the River Kennet which is the perfect stickleback habitat, you will find numbers of these tiny fishes called. They have a sort of pet name, too, for many children (and grown-ups) call them Tiddlers. If you suddenly turn over the floating leaves of the water plants, several of them are sure to dart away like little shadows (they are very nearly the colour of the mud at the bottom), and, when a pool has rocky ledges, you will see them resting underneath them.

Although they are so small, they are very fierce, and fight with all the other pond creatures, who are very much afraid of them. The sticklebacks get their odd name from having little sharp spines on their backs and sides, and they use these in their battles, often killing or hurting fish Which are much bigger than themselves.

Most other fishes lay their eggs carelessly and swim away and forget them, but the stickleback takes great care of his family. In the spring-time the father fish builds a rough kind of nest by twining grass stems and water reeds together. He sticks them firmly with a kind of glue (from his kidneys!), and, after the mother fish has laid around 400 eggs in the new house, he stays nearby to guard his young until the babies are hatched and grown big enough to fend for themselves.

If anything comes near which might harm the youngsters (lots of water creatures like to eat baby fish), the big daddy stickleback rushes out at them and drives them away with his sharp spines. They are related to the pipefish and seahorses where the male also cares for his young.