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Three-spined stickleback


up to 10 centimeters


up to 5 grams


males have a red belly and blue eyes during spawning season


up to maximum 3 years


young fish, small crustaceans and worms


fish-consuming birds such as spoonbills


eggs hatch after 1 - 3 weeks

  • Dut: Driedoornige stekelbaars (Kraaivis, Paddesteker, Stekebak, Stekeltje, Stekelspoor)
  • Lat: Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Eng: Three-spined stickleback
  • Ger: Dreistachliger Stichling
  • Dan: Trepigget hundestejle
  • Fr: Epinoche à trois épines
Three-spined stickleback, Ecomare

Three-spined stickleback

Three-spined sticklebacks can live in fresh as well as salt water. Most spend the winter in coastal waters or river mouths. They migrate in the spring to inland waters where they make a nest and lay eggs. The male has to work hard. He builds the nest, defends his territory against other males, lures the females with a complicated zigzag dance, fans the eggs with oxygen-rich water using his fins and protects the eggs and later the young sticklebacks with all its might from voracious predators.

  • On Texel
    The principle of the stickleback passage., Ecomare

    Sticklebacks migrate to fresh water in order to spawn and thereby form an important source of food for fish-consuming birds, such as spoonbills. However on Texel, it was difficult for the stickleback to cross the dikes and enter the fresh water areas due to land reclamation and Delta Works. Specifically for the spoonbills on the island, the State Forestry had a vacuum-run fish passage built in 1995 in the wadden dike by De Cocksdorp. The passage has been built into the pumping station by De Cocksdorp. When fresh water is pumped away, a large amount of sticklebacks are attracted to the area. The fish are lured to a catching basin with a freshwater current and from there they are carried over the dike with a vacuum.

    There was also a shortage of fish near the spoonbill colony in the Geul, in the southern part of the island. That is why the State Forestry constructed a fish trap between the Mok Bay and the inland waters in the Geul.

  • Distribution
    Distribution of three-spined sticklebacks, Ecomare

    Three-spined sticklebacks live off of the coast, along the beach, in fresh and brackish water. They swim in many waters, including the North Sea, the Wadden Sea and European rivers. They are not rare.

  • Stickleback groom
    Three-spined stickleback, foto fitis, sytske dijksen

    Male three-spined sticklebacks impress the females using their fiercely glittering disco outfit. In the spring, they have a fiery red belly and throat, which contrast sharply with their blue shining eyes. But what's more impressive? The red belly or the lovely blue eyes? Scientists have discovered that the females go after the blue eyes. Particularly the most notable. And blue eyes are the prettiest when contrasting with a red belly. That is why the males are red during spawning season: to make their blue eyes even prettier!