Prepare for the fall with a chilly trip to our Northern Waters gallery!

Hidden away in the depths of the Boulder Reef exhibit is a very unique and lumpy animal: the one-of-a-kind lumpfish.

The lumpfish in all its glory

A unique animal

You can find lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) in North Atlantic waters from Canada to New Jersey, Iceland, and off the coasts of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Here in New England, they cluster around the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy. Adult lumpfish tend to stay in open ocean waters, swimming at depths of 50 to 60 meters. These fish have seven ridges along the top of their bodies, three ridges on each side, and knob-like tubercles dispersed all over, which give them their characteristic lumpy look.

Additionally, unlike many fish, their soft bodies are scaleless! Lumpfish vary in color, appearing blue-gray, brown, or even green. On average, they grow to be 14 to 16 inches long and weigh up to 3 to 6 pounds, with females growing much larger than males. The largest lumpfish found on the American coast measured 23 inches long, and the heaviest weighed about 20 pounds!

Their ridges and tubercles give this animal quite the bumpy look. | Image Source: Jiel via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not just octopuses…

While peeking at our lumpfish on exhibit, you might notice that in addition to their distinct shape, they have a peculiar ability – they can stick to things. Lumpfish have adapted modified pelvic fins that form a “sucking disc,” allowing them to hold on to basically anything! From substrate or seaweed to the glass and rocks we have on exhibit, lumpfish can secure themselves to many surfaces. There’s a reason they’re also known as “lumpsuckers.”

Check out those modified pectoral fins under the fish’s body! The fins form a suction cup, which allows lumpfish to stick to most surfaces. | Image Source: Kris Mikael-Krister via Flickr

At the Aquarium

Male lumpfish can also be quite a flashy animal. Adult males will turn a bright red-orange color when trying to attract a mate. When successful, the male will remain that color and claim an area to nest. These critters are defensive of their nests, and males will actually chase other animals away from their claimed area to protect their young. If you visited the Aquarium a few months ago, you might have actually seen one of our males undergo this color change in an attempt to woo a female! We have bred lumpfish in the past to keep on exhibit and to send to other zoos and aquariums all over the country. We’ve even been able to send our lumpfish to Japan! Currently, we haven’t had any breeding since our males and females have reached sexual maturity at different times.

Lumpfish at the Aquarium
You can also sometimes find lumpfish near our Edge of the Sea tidepool touch tank!

If you’re interested in reading more on the work we’ve done with lumpfish, check out our cool video and blog post on training lumpfish. Remember to check this lumpy, bumpy critter out on your next trip to the New England Aquarium!