Gunnellus ornatus Girard, 1854, San Francisco, California.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
Body eel-like. Pectoral fin small and half as long as the head. Pelvic fins are minute, mere splints. Dorsal and anal fins continuous with a caudal, which is well developed. Color can change from olive-green to brown dorsally; abdomen yellow to reddish. There is a dark bar under the eye and two above the eye across the head. There are several (about 13–15) U-shaped or V-shaped markings (“saddles”) along the base of the dorsal fin reaching onto it. No lateral line canal. Scales minute, rounded, and embedded in the skin.
Northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia south to Carmel, California.
Migrates seasonally from brackish, estuarine mudflats and subtidal sea grass beds under rocks in autumn to deeper water out to about 44 yd (40 m), where its major competitor, Pholis laeta, occurs. Where that species does not co-occur with the saddleback, some remain in the intertidal zone year-round. The young settle in the rocky intertidal or shallow channels in winter and move into more brackish water later.
Solitary and cryptic. Aggregates for spawning. Probably not territorial.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Grazer. Dietary shifts correlated with age. In British Columbia the young feed mainly on small crustaceans (copepods) and polychaete worms, while older fish switch to clam siphons, relying less on small crustaceans (copepods and tanaids).
Spawns in rocky intertidal or deeper sea grass beds under rocks in winter. There is probably a single spawning of one male and one female; both parents guard the eggs. Larvae are pelagic for a brief period and settle in rocky intertidal areas then move into brackish mudflats with seasonal growth of seaweeds, at least in bays and estuaries.
Not threatened. Common and widespread along its range. It is cryptic and rarely encountered by humans.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
Because of its secretive habits and small size, there has never been a fishery for the saddleback gunnel, and it does not make a good aquarium fish. Thus the species has been of little significance to humans.
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