Studies of fish communities of streams draining mining areas suggest that sculpins (Cottus spp.) may be more sensitive than salmonids to adverse effects of metals. We compared the toxicity of zinc, copper, and cadmium to mottled sculpin (C. bairdi) and rainbow trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss) in laboratory toxicity tests. Acute (96-h) and early life-stage chronic (21- or 28-d) toxicity tests were conducted with rainbow trout and with mottled sculpins from populations in Minnesota and Missouri, USA, in diluted well water (hardness = 100 mg/L as CaCO3). Acute and chronic toxicity of metals to newly hatched and swim-up stages of mottled sculpins differed between the two source populations. Differences between populations were greatest for copper, with chronic toxicity values (ChV = geometric mean of lowest-observed-effect concentration and no-observed-effect concentration) of 4.4 ??g/L for Missouri sculpins and 37 ??g/L for Minnesota sculpins. Cadmium toxicity followed a similar trend, but differences between sculpin populations were less marked, with ChVs of 1.1 ??g/L (Missouri) and 1.9 ??g/L (Minnesota). Conversely, zinc was more toxic to Minnesota sculpins (ChV = 75 ??g/L) than Missouri sculpins (chronic ChV = 219 ??g/L). Species-average acute and chronic toxicity values for mottled sculpins were similar to or lower than those for rainbow trout and indicated that mottled sculpins were among the most sensitive aquatic species to toxicity of all three metals. Our results indicate that current acute and chronic water quality criteria for cadmium, copper, and zinc adequately protect rainbow trout but may not adequately protect some populations of mottled sculpins. Proposed water quality criteria for copper based on the biotic ligand model would be protective of both sculpin populations tested. ?? 2007 SETAC.