North Carolina

‘Master of disguise’ hides out in the Great Smoky Mountain streams. Can you spot it?

How to safely watch wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains

There's lots of wildlife to see in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here's how to do so safely.
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There's lots of wildlife to see in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here's how to do so safely.

The sculpin is a bottom-dwelling fish that uses its camouflage coloring to ambush smaller creatures swimming in the streams of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Sharing a sculpin photograph on Facebook recently, Great Smoky Mountains National Park staff asked, “Can you spot the sculpin?”

“Sculpins (Cottus sp.) are masters of disguise and unrivaled ambush predators in the streams of the Smokies,” the park said.

According to the park, sculpins don’t have a swim bladder to control buoyancy. This means they can sit in the rocks in a stream bed to wait for prey to pass by close enough so they can strike.

“Sculpins are voracious predators and will eat insects, salamanders, crayfish, and other fish⁠—including their own kind,” the park said.

According to fishing company Orvis, “Freshwater sculpins rarely exceed 7 inches in length, while the majority are considerably smaller, and they inhabit virtually every kind of habitat in which you’d also find trout, salmon, and smallmouth bass.”

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the different species of sculpins are hard to tell apart because they all look very similar.

The fish also “have a tendency to hybridize,” or mate between species, the Forest Service said. So they may even have trouble telling each other apart.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.
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