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Brook Stickleback

Brook Stickleback, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


A deep-bodied, compressed and scaleless fish. The mouth is small with swollen lips, and the lower jaw projects beyond the upper jaw. There are two to seven (usually five) unconnected spines followed by a dorsal fin with 9 to 11 rays. The anal fin has a single spine with 9 to 10 rays; the pelvic fin has one heavy spine with a single ray. The lateral line is complete, and there are 30 to 36 small, bony plates along its full length. It is olive-green on the back and sides with white or yellow spots and dark wavy lines scattered over the sides. This species reaches 2- to 3-inches long.


Brook Stickleback Distribution

Streams and some natural lakes throughout central and northeast Iowa, with scattered populations found in the Little Sioux River and Rock River drainages in northwest Iowa. It appears to be present only in the northern one-half of the state.


Aquatic insects

State Record

State Records are not documented for non-game species.

Expert Tip

Brook Stickleback make interesting aquarium fish, but because of their aggressive behavior, it is difficult to keep other small fish with them.


In Iowa and other parts of the upper Midwest, the Brook Stickleback prefers streams with moderate currents that have sand and gravel bottoms and clean to slightly turbid water. It can also be found in the sheltered bays, swampy margins and bogs of lakes. It lives in cool, shallow water, often with heavy vegetation. 

Males build nests in the spring at water temperatures of 59 to 66 degrees. The nests are attached to a stem of vegetation by a whitish cement secreted by the male. A rounded nest is built from organic debris, filamentous algae and other materials. The male aggressively seeks a female that is pregnant. The female enters the nest opening and is continuously prodded by the male until eggs are deposited. Immediately after leaving the nest the female is chased away by the male. The male then enters the nest and fertilizes the eggs. The eggs are incubated by the male, vigorously fanning a current of water through the nest. Eggs hatch in 7 to 11 days, depending upon water temperature.

The male Brook Stickleback continues to guard the nest after the eggs hatch, retrieving fry that stray from the nest by catching them in his mouth one at a time and spitting them back into the nest. After several days, young escape so fast that the male is unable to retrieve them; he either abandons his duties as a father or eats his own offspring. Brook Stickleback live up to three years.

The Brook Stickleback is food for numerous game fish.

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames.

Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Paint Creek Allamakee Located in Yellow River State Forest, 3 miles west of Harpers Ferry off of State Forest Road or CR B25. 11.00
Waterloo Creek Allamakee Streams runs through Dorchester along Waterloo Creek Drive and Highway 76. 10.50
North Bear Creek Winneshiek Located 2.5 miles northeast of Highlandville. 6.00
East Pine Creek Winneshiek Stream located east of Bluffton. 5.80
French Creek Allamakee Located on French Creek Wildlife Management Area and private land 6 miles northeast of Waukon. 5.60
South Bear Creek Winneshiek Located at Highlandville. 5.20
Sny Magill Creek Clayton Located in the Sny Magill Wildlife Management Area, 3 miles southwest of McGregor along Keystone Road. 5.00
Clear Creek (New Albin) Allamakee Located on Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area, 4 miles east of Dorchester along Sleepy Hollow Drive. 3.40
Coon Creek Winneshiek Located in Coon Creek Wildlife Management Area, 7 miles northeast of Decorah. 2.60
Pine Creek Allamakee Located on Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area, 2 miles northeast of Sattre on Balsam Road or CR W60. 2.50
Wapsi River Trout Section Mitchell Located 0.5 mile west of McIntire. 2.50
Turtle Creek Mitchell Located about 1/2 mile north of St. Ansgar off of Highway 218. 2.20
Upper Swiss Valley Creek Dubuque Located 3 miles south of Dubuque near Swiss Valley Nature Center, just off Swiss Valley Road 2.10
Clear Creek (Lansing) Allamakee Stream runs along Highway 9 through Lansing. Public angling access is at the County Park located off South Road Drive. 2.00
Patterson Creek Allamakee Stream located 4 miles northwest of Waukon. 1.40
Little Turkey River Delaware 3 miles east of Colesburg in Hoffman Wildlife Management Area off Hubbard Road 1.20
Bass Creek Fayette Located near St. Lucas and empties into the Turkey River. 1.09
Spring Creek Mitchell Located on the west edge of Orchard. 0.80
Baileys Ford Delaware 3 miles southeast of Manchester - follow signage from Jefferson Road. 0.60
South Cedar Creek Clayton Located 2 miles south of Garnavillo and may be accessed from Jigsaw Road. 0.50
French Creek - West Branch Allamakee Located on French Creek Wildlife Management Area 6 miles northeast of Waukon. 0.40
Bohemian Creek Winneshiek Located about 1.5 miles east of Protivin. 0.30
Dutton Springs Creek Fayette Located 3 miles northeast of West Union in Dutton's Cave Park. 0.27
Monastery Creek Dubuque Monastery Creek can be accessed through the Dubuque County Swiss Valley Nature Preserve about 4 miles SW of Dubuque off of Swiss Valley Rd. 0.20