stick·​le·​back ˈsti-kəl-ˌbak How to pronounce stickleback (audio)
plural sticklebacks also stickleback
: any of a family (Gasterosteidae) of small scaleless bony fishes having two or more free spines in front of the dorsal fin and including marine, anadromous, and freshwater forms

Examples of stickleback in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web As a condition of a special use permit to collect water for municipal purposes, Big Bear City Community Services District is contractually obligated to maintain barbed wire fences and water flows at Shay Creek, where the stickleback were discovered in 1981. Louis Sahagún, Los Angeles Times, 17 Sep. 2023 For comparison, the team also analyzed the stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), which, despite being a close relative, lacks the seahorse's distinctive head shape. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, 26 Nov. 2013 The data comes from 3 freshwater threespine stickleback populations, and 2 oceanic ones. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 1 Mar. 2010 With colleagues, he’s also uncovered the genetic underpinnings of these changes in the stickleback fish. Katie Hunt, CNN, 30 Jan. 2023 The stickleback's hydrodynamics were significantly noisier than that of the stealthy, silent ninja seahorse. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, 26 Nov. 2013 The stickleback has undergone a grand evolutionary experiment, replicated many times over around the world. Ed Yong, Discover Magazine, 5 Apr. 2012 David Kingsley from Stanford University has been studying the stickleback for many years, and his team have now published the animal’s full genome. Ed Yong, Discover Magazine, 5 Apr. 2012 During the breeding season, male stickleback fish become intensively territorial and take on a bright red coloration on their underside that attracts females. Lee Alan Dugatkin, Scientific American, 15 Apr. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'stickleback.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English stykylbak, from Old English sticel goad + Middle English bak back; akin to Old English stician to stick

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of stickleback was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near stickleback

Cite this Entry

“Stickleback.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


stick·​le·​back ˈstik-əl-ˌbak How to pronounce stickleback (audio)
: any of numerous small scaleless fishes that have two or more sharp spines on the back

More from Merriam-Webster on stickleback

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!