Pipefish are slender relatives of seahorses.
Pipefish are a very slender fish that has an amazing ability to camouflage, blending in expertly with the slender seagrasses and weeds among which it lives. They align themselves in a vertical position and sway back and forth among the grasses.
Like their seahorse and seadragon relatives, pipefish have a long snout and bony rings around their body and fan-shaped tail. Rather than scales, they have bony plates for protection. Depending on the species, pipefish can be from one to twenty-six inches in length. Some even have the ability to change color to further blend in with their habitat.
Like their seahorse and seadragon relatives, pipefish have a fused jaw which creates a long, pipette-like snout that is used for sucking in their food.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Gasterosteiformes
- Family: Syngnathidae
There are over 200 pipefish species. Here are some that are found in United States waters:
- Common Pipefish (Northern pipefish)
- Chain Pipefish
- Dusky pipefish
- Bay Pipefish
Habitat and Distribution
Pipefish live in seagrass beds, among Sargassum, and among reefs, estuaries and rivers. They are found in shallow waters up to waters over 1000 feet deep. They may move to deeper waters in the winter.
Pipefish eat tiny crustaceans, fish and fish eggs. Some (e.g., Janss' pipefish) even set up cleaning stations to eat parasites off other fish.
Like their seahorse relatives, pipefish are ovoviviparous, but it is the male who raises the young. After a sometimes elaborate courtship ritual, females place several hundred eggs on the male's brood patch or in his brood pouch (only some species have full- or half-pouches). The eggs are protected there while they incubate, before they hatch into tiny pipefish that are miniature versions of their parents.
Conservation and Human Uses
Threats to pipefish include habitat loss, coastal development, and harvesting for use in traditional medicines.
References and Further Information
- Chesapeake Bay Program. Pipefish. Accessed October 8, 2014.
- FusedJaw. Pipefish Fact Sheet. Accessed October 28, 2014.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium. Bay Pipefish. Accessed October 28, 2014.
- Waller, G. 1996. SeaLife: A Complete Guide to the Marine Environment. Smithsonian Institution Press. 504 pp.