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 Long-spined Bullhead
Taurulus bubalis

Photograph by Andy Horton

Common Name(s):
Long-spined Bullhead, Bullhead,
Rockfish, Scorpion Fish, Clobberhead, Spikey, Sea Scorpion (book name), Sea-Toadfish, Rout, Bullfish. Hardheads More
Scientific Name: Taurulus bubalis
Family: Cottidae 

Usual Size: 175 mm  to  283 g

A small fish with a stout body (flattened out wide about the same as it is high) with a head as large as the rest of its tapering body. Medium-sized cottid, or sculpin. This family of fish are usually regarded as ugly in appearance with a drab colour and this species has four long spines (two on each side, on the gill cover) that stick out when the fish is removed from the water. Usually in various shades of brown with large cream blotches, in some areas this fish will be orange or red and the cream blotches will be white. The pectoral fins are huge relative to the small squat body. 
The featured species can also be reddish (picture in Linda Pitkin's book) and then the flaps at the corner of the mouth should be looked for. 
I think these fish will darken or lighten over a short time (an hour?) to match their environment. AH

Similar species: Myoxocephalus scorpius is very similar in appearance. However, the two species can be readily distinguished because only T. bubalis has two white lappets on the corners of its wide mouth. 

    Taurulus bubalis 
The Norway Bullhead, Taurulus lilljeborgi, is found in deeper water off the coasts of Scotland and Norway. It is usually reddish in colour with similar markings, and the long spines on each gill cover are almost identical. A photograph can be found on the Norwegian web site. 
Link to a photograph of Taurulus lilljeborgi by Espen Rekdal

Bullhead Taurulus bubalis demonstrating how bright colours can be camouflage (Link). Photographed at Tjärnö Aquarium by Mike Noren

Photograph (overhead view) by Nicolas Jouault

Terror of the Rock Pool (article)

Long-spined Sea Scorpion or Bullhead (Photograph by Ronald)

Red specimen from Bangor Pier, County Down, Northern Ireland. There are piles of boulders along the back of the pier as a sea defence with massive gaps in between them. I would normally fish down between these to see what species of fish are about. All sorts turn up .

Photograph by Ronald

Early spring. Small clumps of cream caviar-sized eggs laid in shallow water. 
At a length of approx. 8.2 mm (excluding caudal fin), the dorsal fins of the larvae are clearly separated, the first dorsal with 8 ray supports, the head completely pigmented, the body and fins transparent, and found amongst the weed in a shore pool, (one specimen) at Kingston beach, Shoreham on 13 May 2001.
In the wild, Bullheads spawn in Spring, from February to May, at the end of their second year.  Breeding should be possible in a large aquarium.

Photograph by Sarah Sheeran: Eggs of Taurulus bubalis on the underside of a decorated rock


Shallow rocky areas. Small fish will be found in tide pools during the summer. M. scorpius lives in deeper water. 
A large expandable mouth will swallow fish as big as itself. Flattened crushing teeth so it cannot eat anything it cannot swallow whole. In the English Channel, palaemonid prawns are its principal diet in the summer. It will readily take worms on a hook and bait meant for much larger fish. 
Known to eat small gobies, small blennies and small wrasse, but not the Butterfish, Pholis gunnellus. The Butterfish is too slippery for it to grip with its teeth. 
I saw the large bullhead eating a smaller one, head first, the large fish was on the resting (?) on the bottom, with the smaller one's tail, sticking out. I did not see the attack. There were four bullheads in the tank when I saw it first. Ten days later there were two, and one was being eaten!
Peter Biddulph

All rocky coasts around the British Isles.  Its range in Scotland is not known and may be replaced by M. scorpius. Norwegian coast. 
English Channel, North Sea, Irish Sea. 
Kingston Beach, Shoreham-by-Sea (very common) 
Cremyll Point, Devonport (Report by Lee Massey, Andover, Hants)

Larger fish, sea birds, Otters.
Otter (Photograph by Nic Davies) Otter eating a Bullhead, on the Isle of Mull.

Photograph by 
Nic Davies

27 September 2007

Eider Duck  Somateria mollissima
swallowing a Bullhead
Photograph by Dave Pullan

 Eider Ducks usually eat mussels and perhaps other molluscs 
so this is a most extraordinary photograph.

Dave Pullan Photographic Portfolio

27 February 2019
Herring Gull with a fish at Sandy Bay, Larne, Co.Antrim

Photograph by Paul McCullough

Isopods, family Gnathiidae (gnathids). Species: Gnathia sp. The young of these isopods are called pranizae. 

The parasite on Sue Daley's Taurulus bubalis is a male Anilocra frontalis (a cymothoid isopod.)  These isopods are common on Black Sea Bream in Guernsey waters during the winter months.  I have recorded them also on wrasse, Poor Cod and Red Mullet.

I have been surveying a small rocky bay, La Valette, near my home in Guernsey.  I have visited it at least 20 times since March when I was introduced to the bay by a group of Nottingham University students.

I found also a small Long-spined Sea Scorpion, Taurulus bubalis, (TL 61 mm) at the midshore level in a gully.  I placed it in a tray for photography.  As I did this I noticed 5 or 6 blue-green bodied creatures dashing around in the water.  These turned out to be juvenile gnathids.  They are pranizae.  They are bright blue-green and well camouflaged on the sea scorpion.  I have developed my photos of the sea scorpion and I can clearly see the pranizae on the pectoral fins and body of the fish.

More parasites/commensals:


Caligus elongatus


Calliobdella punctata (20 mm long)
Malmiana bubali (12 mm)
Malminan yorkii 
Oceanobdella microstoma 
Sanguinothus pinnarum (7 - 12 mm)

Gnathia isopods

Oceanobdella microstoma on Taurulus bubalis (Bullhead or Sea Scoprpion); just confirmed by Gene Burreson. The leeches are on approx 1 in 3 Bullheads at Penzance at the moment.(March 2012) Report by David Fenwick

Additional Notes:
The book name of Sea Scorpion may be used by divers. 
The common name Longhorn Sculpin (USA) is sometimes used for the western Atlantic species Myoxocephalus octodecemspinosus so this name has been deleted from the list of common names.
Growth:  one female in captivity grew to a length of 14 cm (excluding the tail fin) by the second summer. In this specimen the width of the mouth opening was 35 mm (exterior of the mouth was 40 mm, excluding the 2 lappets which are unclear out of the water), the diameter of the eyes 8 mm, the length of the longest slightly curved spine was 17 mm. The width of this fish at the widest point was 58 mm (i.e. it was 2.4 times longer than it was wide at the position of the gills).  Growth is usually less and males may even grow to less than 8 cm in length by the second summer. 

Andy Horton from captive study.
More information
Large fish have high oxygen requirements and are intolerant of temperatures over 22°C. However, the first year juvenile fish (that are common in rock pools) are able to tolerate temperatures up to 26°C in the short term (aquarium study). 

Large numbers of juvenile fish (first year) have been found on occasions with hollowed bellies as though they had insufficient food in silty conditions (River Adur estuary).
Largish specimens, 10 cm, intertidally on the Scarborough coast (March 2000).
Bullheads caught regularly off Roker pier, Sunderland (NE England), 125 - 200 mm. 
A reddish-brown, but predominantly red, specimen of what was almost certainly this fish was captured in a prawn net by Dean Tucker (Solihull) on at Challabrough beach south Devon on the 30th July 2000. This is the next beach along from Bigbury Bay
A small Bullhead with a rust-like tinge over its body was collected from Kingston beach, Shoreham, in October 2000, for its photograph. However, within one week this rust-like tinge had disappeared. AH.
January 2001 
Several hundred Long-spined Bullheads were found up washed on the strandline on Lancing beach at the western end of Widewater Lagoon, West Sussex. This has has not been recorded before.

Report by Robert Clark (Sussex Fisheries)
We found a Long-spined Bullhead in a rockpool on Porthmeor Beach in St. Ives in Cornwall on the 10 August 2001. The fish was found by Emma  and Joe Yapp and was about 15 cm long. It was identified by its big head and 2 white lappets on the corners of its mouth.
Emma and Joe Yapp
Four Bullheads, Taurulus bubalis, found on Caswell Bay (all in one pool), Gower, South Wales - 1st of September 2001. Identified by shape, coloration and lappets by Adam Cooper (Swansea)

29 September 2001
An interesting description of a Bullhead caught by an angler (a typical response, but well written):
Whilst fishing on Saturday (29/09/01) my partner (Caroline Mabb) pulled out a fish which looks a lot like the picture at the top of the page: 

We are fairly new to sea angling and this thing came as a bit of a surprise - it looked so ugly that we though it must be dangerous so I was given the task of unhooking it :  After being gently wrapped in a moist tea-towel (I didn't like the look of the spiny fins) and unhooked it was returned successfully and swam off looking none the worse for it's adventure. 

Date/Time: Saturday 29th Sept, 2001. About 4.30pm. 
Location:  We were fishing on the pier at Blythe, about 20 yds past the dogleg (the pier turns a corner on  its way out to sea). 
Tackle (just in case you are interested):  A float setup was fished in amongst the pilings of the pier.  Bait was fished at a depth of around 6 feet (I don't know exactly how deep the water was but assume this was fairly near the bottom). A number 1/0 sized hook was used. 
Bait: A smallish ragworm was threaded up the shank of the hook, which was tipped off with a chunk of frozen mackerel.  The fish had fully engulfed the mackerel

So why do I think it was a bullhead?  To be honest I simply do not have a 
clue what it is (the reason I looked at the website).  We at first thought 
it might have a been a Weever but I had never caught one of those either so 
we were really in the dark.  Looking at the photos on the site the bullhead 
seemed to be about the closest, although it was not a perfect match for the 
picture shown.  It definitely was not a weever though as it looks nothing 
like any pics I can find of those. 

The arrangement of fins matches that shown, two fairly large fins with a 
curved profile were visible on the back.  Large pectoral fins with the 
same curved profile stuck out just behind the gills.  When the fish was 
lying on its belly it appeared that the front fins supported it slightly off 
the ground.  The eyes were large and bulbous, protruding above the profile 
of the skull.  The skin from what I recall appeared rough (slightly 
toadlike) and was a very dark brown colour, having slightly lighter brown 
mottling (which may have contributed to the roughened appearance of the 
skin.  Certainly it was not as light in colour as the picture shown.
Sizewise the fish was about 12 cm in length.  The underside of the fish was a 
whitish colour and either side of the belly there appeared to be a pair of 
spines, possibly fins - I didn't fancy getting too close to inspect and 
wanted to get the fish back in the water ASAP so didn't spend much time 

I am afraid that is about it.  Unfortunately I do not have a picture as we 
were camera-less which is a real shame, as I guess it would have settled the 
debate for good.  If you can confirm from my descriptions what Caroline 
caught we'd love to hear about it.  I'm also interested to know why you are 
interested to know about bullheads. 
Jonathan Harris

20 October 2001
D.Allen found a Long-spined Bullhead on Swanpool Beach, Cornwall.

Report by Kenny.
Photograph by Paul Parsons
18 November 2001
A Sea Scorpion (Bullhead), shown in the photograph above, with strong colours and patches of white, on the undersea chalk cliff face known as the Worthing Lumps, about 3 miles off the Sussex coast.
Report by Paul Parsons

16 February 2002
I fished with some friends Saturday night on Llandudno pier, north Wales, we were getting knocks but failing to connect, we were fishing the bay side of the pier where it broadens out at the end, casting into an area illuminated by a floodlight, the tide runs at an angle from shore directly under the wing of the pier, and is quite fast and strong. My friend Geoff pulled in a fish, which yes frightened the life out of us, and we have been trying to identify it which is why I was looking at this sight. 

The fish we caught, he went on to catch a second one an hour later! fits the general description of the Bullhead but does vary in coloration and I question size. 
Here goes, without the histrionics, first impression was of the mechanical fish from stingray!, sorry but it was night time and the thing was bloody ugly, but its coloration was fantastic, which led us to be convinced it was poisonous! 

The fish was at least 18 cm long, general appearance of the bullhead, large flattened head covered in nodules, not unlike the blyth angles description of a toad like appearance, dull green in colour, the mouth was huge for the size of fish curving round the sides of its massive flattened head, the mouth underside and slightly above was iridescent white, but with distinct blue colouring in places, which merged and faded into the white, it looked like a schoolchild that had been sucking on a leaking blue pen. The pectoral fins were extremely large and splayed in an aggressive manner, they were banded in alternate red and white, quite a deep red, with much smaller lines of white, it had a spinned front dorsal which it raised perch like and was spend along its entire length, no coloration, the second dorsal was much lower and longer stretching down to almost its tail fin. The body was thin, 
compared to the head and was iridescent white with brown spots, the spots where distinctive and had a lighter aura effect at outer edges. 
Both fish showed the same blue tinges, some quite dark but merging into the whiteness of the body, i.e. fading, this was mainly from below the fish spreading down the body to the tail, these seemed irregular, i.e. not the same on both fish. There may have been secondary spines/rays slightly behind the large pectorals, i.e. like damaged fins. The fish both took mackerel and squid cocktail baits, on size 1/0 hooks. Both fish were unhooked by myself, I found the best technique was to lightly grip the upper mouth with pliers and remove the hook with surgical forceps, sounds horrendous but we wanted to avoid the spines and wrapping the fish to avoid these would have resulted in removing any mucous and possible damaging the skin. The fish seemed to prefer this method which was quick, the upper mouth appeared very strong in terms of bone construction so grip was easy and did not require a lot of pressure. both fish were immediately released and swam away strongly. 
What were they? as i say they did not match the coloration of the Bullhead, and were big, can you help. A Middlesborough angler told us they were Scorpionfish, no one else including local anglers had never encountered anything like them before. 

Sorry not a very scientific report!  Howard Lawton

Photograph by Ray Hamblett

30 March 2002
Bullhead at Lancing Beach
Adur Wildlife Report (Link)

8 June 2002
Pillar box red Bullhead caught on a ragworm bait from Roker Pier, Sunderland by Mark Scott. It was about 15 cm long (including the large caudal fin). 

Report by Mark Scott

23 June 2002
Caught a Sea Scorpion at Tide Mills, Seaford, Sussex  at approx
21:00. HT 22:00. Approx size 15 cm (6 inches). Colour: pinkish red with cream.

Report by Lee Campbell

10 January 2003
I  caught a Bullhead off the beach at Llanrhystud, 9 miles south of Aberystwyth, Wales (Cardigan Bay) using Mackerel bait. I wasn't sure what it was as I've never seen one before several other fishermen  who were there couldn't decide wether it was a Bullhead or a Weever fish I looked it up when I got home and it was the Bullhead. My book calls it a Sea Scorpion. 

Report by Trevor G Haynes

10 July 2005

Bullhead (Photograph by Theresa Best)
We visited West Runton coast and saw these two fish they were about 4 inches long and in the rock pools, and we have been looking on the net to find out what they were. This is when we came across your site and wonder if they are  Cottidae  or the  T. bubalis .
Report and Photograph by Theresa Best
This study shows how effective the camouflage of this fish in pools on the shore and in the shallow water.

6 October 2007
This attractive red Long-spined Bullhead latched on to the bait on my friend's fishing line (without swallowing the hook) and was returned alive to the sea off the east coast of Northern Ireland (just north of Tornamoney Point, which is just north of the village of Cushendun in NE County Antrim). 

The white lappets in the corner of the mouth cannot be seen clearly in this fish. 

Reports and Photographs by Cathal McNaughton


Information wanted: Please send any records of this fish, with location, date, who discovered it, how it was identified, prevalence, common name and any other details to 
Shorewatch Project EMail
All messages will receive a reply. 
Shorewatch Project
Report  Forms
Information supplied by 
Andy Horton (British Marine Life Study Society


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