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Home Ingi's Lens Meet Lumpy the lumpsucker — who thrives in the gorge of Gjógv

Meet Lumpy the lumpsucker — who thrives in the gorge of Gjógv

My lumpsucker acquaintance at the gorge of Gjógv. Image credits: Ingi Sørensen.

I’ve followed this male lumpsucker for years. Apparently a permanent resident of the gorge of Gjógv, Lumpy is busy here guarding the eggs spawned by his female partner. 

He’s of the species Cyclopterus lumpus of the Cyclopteridae family of marine fishes, commonly known as lumpsuckers or lumpfish. The lumpsucker is unmistakeable, shaped like a ball, lumpy and bluish-grey in color, however the males look more colorful with a pinky-orangey belly during the breeding season.

Lumpsuckers are found in the cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific oceans. The family name Cyclopteridae derives from the Greek words κύκλος (kyklos), meaning ‘circle’, and πτέρυξ (pteryx), meaning ‘wing’ or ‘fin’, in reference to the circle-shaped pectoral fins of most of the fish in this family.

Lumpfish can be difficult to spot as they are clever at hiding; however, they appear to be rather abundant in Faroese waters, occurring both naturally and as specially brought by fish farmers into growing cages to help reduce the populations of sea lice, a menace to farmed salmon.

The only species of lumpsucker that is targeted commercially is Cyclopterus lumpus, which is targeted primarily for its roe in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, and to a lesser extent in Denmark and Sweden. Cyclopterus lumpus are also caught from the wild to provide broodstock for the aquaculture industry where the fish is used as a cleaner fish to remove sea lice in salmon aquaculture.

Lumpsuckers are named quite appropriately as their portly bodies are almost spherical. The ‘sucker’ part refers to the fish’s pelvic fins with adhesive discs used to adhere to the substrate.

As their appearance might suggest, lumpsuckers are poor swimmers. Most species are benthic; that is, they spend most of their time on or near the bottom. The fish are found on rocky or muddy substrates, where their coloration allows for effective camouflage. Members of the family are found primarily on the continental shelf or slope, at depths down to 1,700 meters. Some of the deeper-living species are however pelagic, remaining some distance above the ocean floor.

Benthic species feed on sessile invertebrates such as polychaete worms, crustaceans and mollusks. Pelagic species target prey they are capable of overtaking, namely slow-moving jellyfish and ctenophores.

Before their yolk is completely absorbed, juvenile lumpsuckers consume the larvae of crustaceans, which grow on seaweed near the surface, and smaller halacrid mites. Juveniles consume larger harpacticoids and isopods after they have absorbed their yolk.

Lumpsuckers are a poorly studied group, with little known of their behavior and biology. At least some species are known to travel great distances in order to spawn in shallow, intertidal waters; this may well be true of all species. Males are also known to guard the brood of spherical eggs.

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