Sticklebacks in Schools

Introduction to the Project

Sticklebacks in Schools form the fourth step in our Creatures in the Classroom project.

Sticklebacks are found in the slower moving ‘backwaters’ of the River Wandle. They are one of the most common fish in the river.


The three spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) are stock from the River Wandle catchment – they will all have been caught from our local river and will be returned to the same site after around 12-16 weeks.

We have selected sticklebacks because we know how robust they are, what an interesting lifestyle they live and how essential they are in creating a healthy ecosystem.

Sticklebacks are the classic ‘tiddlers’ that most of us have caught as children.

The recent BBC Springwatch series followed a lively male stickleback as he went about building a nest and defiantly defending it against all enemies including those of his own kind – it made for great television!

To quote BBC Nature:

‘The stickleback male is a fantastic father. After attracting an egg-laying female to his nest with a zig-zag courtship dance and bright red colourings, he fans the fertilised eggs with his fins to provide oxygen. Once the eggs have hatched he protects the small fry and teaches them self-defence from predators by chasing them’.

Reference: BBC Nature: Three spined stickleback

Enjoy their video at:

Resources supplied by the Wandle Trust

The Trust will supply:

  • A simple teacher’s handbook detailing the tank set up and ideas on how the sticklebacks might be incorporated in to the Upper Key Stage 2 curriculum
  • Fish tank with a hood
  • A filter and an air pump, plastic tubing and air stone – sticklebacks enjoy a plentiful supply of oxygen going through the water
  • Chiller – to maintain a constant temperature of the water (in the first tank only)
  • Water collected from the River Wandle
  • Gravel and stones collected from the River Wandle
  • Water plants collected from the River Wandle
  • Sticklebacks collected from the River Wandle – two mature males and 5 or 6 females
  • A small net
  • On-going help and advice

The Sticklebacks in Schools project will be set up in very early Spring – ideally on return to school after the Winter break. It is suggested that the tank be set up about a fortnight before the fish are introduced. This will allow time for the tank set up to be checked, the river water to ‘settle’ and micro-organisms (too small to see!) to start to work in the tank.

The Trust also offers:

  • FREE introductory presentation to classes – with images, music and video

All sticklebacks will be released back to the River Wandle at this site that they were originally collected. The Trust would be happy to help organise this event (advise on a suitable site which is safe and accessible to children) but will not be responsible for transporting children to and from the release site.

Stickleback as male

Resources NOT supplied by the Wandle Trust

  • A second fish tank (with a secure hood) where the females will enjoy a place to swim around and hide – advice will be given on how and when to set this up. (The Trust will supply an air pump, plastic tubing and air stones on request)
  • A source of electricity and an adequate extension from a wall socket. Four plug extension required for each tank
  • A tank stand – a robust table, desk or bench will be required to hold a considerable weight of water! The footprint of the first tank is about 70 cms by 40 cms
  • Food for all the sticklebacks – but do not overfeed! Live food is best for the sticklebacks.

Quote: ‘Food’s pretty easy – live or frozen bloodworm, daphnia (both available from an aquaria shop), mozzie larvae (collected from a water butt in the garden). Add to that minced up frozen prawns (value bag from Tesco – costs next to nothing, lasts forever!) chopped earthworms, chopped bits of haddock,etc.’

  • As all sticklebacks (including any newly born fish fry) must be released back in to the River Wandle the school will need to organise transport to and from the site for the students

Expertise and Commitment

Sticklebacks can be sensitive to their environment especially during breeding – overfeeding is the common problem in rearing them. Stress is another so the children should be warned not to approach the tank quickly and noisily. They should refrain from tapping the tank sides.

The tanks will need some maintenance including cleaning of the gravel (using a hose as a siphon and a bucket) and changing of the water (about a quarter of a tank) every week. The techniques will be explained in the teacher’s handbook.

On-going advice and help will be supplied throughout the project to make it a success.


The cost of the hire of the tank and accessories is UK £50.00. There is also a returnable deposit of UK £50.00 which will need to be paid upfront to ‘The Wandle Trust’ before the programme begins. This deposit will be returned to your school on completion of the project.

More Information

If you have any further questions then do email

If you would like your school to take part in the Sticklebacks project then email Please indicate on your email:

  1. The easiest way to get back in touch with you – telephone number (call or text?) or email?
  2. An indication of when you would like to set up the project – a month will be fine.

We will get back to you as soon as we can!

Useful background websites about sticklebacks:

Young Person’s Trust for the Environment (YPTE) Three spined stickleback

Wikipedia: Three spined stickleback

Sticklebacks in Tanks – University of Leicester

Includes lots of teaching ideas and games associated with sticklebacks and freshwater habitats

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust