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 Short-spined Bullhead
Myoxocephalus scorpius
This fish in the photograph is alive. 
It can survive for at least 10 minutes out of the water 
if it is kept moist with seawater.

Photograph by Andy Horton

Common Name(s):
Short-spined Bullhead, Greater Bullhead, Rout, Shorthorn Sculpin (America),  Sea Scorpion,
Lesser-spined Bullfish, Plucker (Scotland).
Scientific Name:
Myoxocephalus scorpius
Family: Cottidae 

Usual Size: to 30 cm

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. Large cottid, or sculpin. This family of fish are usually regarded as ugly in appearance with a drab colour and this species has four short 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. The pectoral fins are huge relative to the small squat body. 
Similar species: Taurulus bubalis is very similar in appearance. However, the two species can be readily distinguished because only T. bubalis has two white lappets on the corner of its wide mouth. 

A specimen seen by Jane Lilley in 1998 had a very bold  near black body with two narrow beige bands across the body and the same narrow bands forming a triangle on the head. 

Photograph of a Short-spined Bullhead by Glenn Smart washed up on a Northumberland  beach in February 2007.

Short-spined Bullhead, Myoxocephalus scorpius
Photographs by Penny Martin
Snorkel Orkney  facebook

The study above shows the typical appearance of the Short-spined Bullhead and if you look carefully you can note the shorter pre-opercula spine that gives the fish the first component of its book name. 

This fish can be confused with the Long-spined Bullhead, Taurulus bubalis, illustrated below. The latter fish has a longer pre-opercula spine, but in the field this difference can be tricky to distinguish. 


Taurulus bubalis

Long-spined Bullhead, Taurulus bubalis

Both species of fish show a great range in colour which should be ignored for identification purposes. The Long-spined Bullhead is much more prevalent in the shallow seas all around the British Isles. The Short-spined is an inhabitant of deeper water in the English Channel, but is frequently discovered in much shallower seas around Orkney. 

The must easily discernible identification feature are the quite lappets at the corner of the large expansive mouth of Taurulus bubalis only. Both species of fish have huge mouths for swallowing their prey. The presence of the lappets always indicate the smaller species the Long-spined, but they can be hidden in photographs and the absence at first glance should not be used as definitive for the Short-spined, Myoxocephalus scorpius, just a guide to look further. The spines have to be looked at very carefully to distinguish the species. They are not venomous, but stinging spines do occur in the true Scorpion Fish, Scorpaena scrofa. Colloquial names are extremely varied for both species. Bullhead is the most commonly used in Britain but there are so many regional variations that each port seems to have a different name. 

The new and recommended fish identification guide book goes into great detail to identify the identification characteristics of each fish, especially as seen by anglers and fishermen. An example of the pages is shown above. 

Egg masses laid in shallow water attached to rocks from December to March. On the west coast of Scotland usually February & March. 

Short-spined Bullhead, Myoxocephalus scorpius with eggs 
Photograph by Avril Keith
Scotland Underwater   facebook

A splendid study of the larger of the two usual cottids found in shallow seas around the British Isles. 

Shallow rocky areas, rarely intertidal 
A large expandable mouth will swallow fish as big as itself. Flattened crushing teeth so it cannot eat anything it cannot swallow whole. 

Shallower seas around the British Isles, commoner in the north. 
English Channel, North Sea, Irish Sea. 
Additional Notes:
The book name of Sea Scorpion may be used by divers. 
The names Short-spined Sea Scorpion, Father-lasher are book names. The first one may be used by divers, but I have never been able to trace the colloquial use of the second name. It used in Yarrell as one of many common names. 
The Shorthorn Sculpin is the American name as this fish is found on both sides of the North Atlantic.

More parasites:


Heptacyclus myoxocephali
Janusion scorpii
Oceanobdella microstoma 
Pisciola geometra
Malmiana brunnea 
Calliobdella lophii

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. 
The specimen in the photograph was caught in deep water off Shoreham, Sussex.
8 March 1999: Robert Morris caught a specimen nearly 30 cm in length and weighing an estimated 800 grams off Deal Pier. It was a sort of sandy olive base colour with brown stripes along the body and fins.
Record British angling weight is at about 1210 grams from Whitley Bay, from the shore in 1982.
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Information supplied by 
Andy Horton (British Marine Life Study Society

Copyright 1997-2007 British Marine Life Study Society

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History of Fishes  by William Yarrell,  two volumes   published by John van Voorst  1859


Swallows fishes, crabs, prawns and anything it can get into its expandable mouthThere are spines on the gill covers, but they are not venomous