Pipefish

Syngnathinae

Last updated: April 13, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Madelein Wolfaardt/Shutterstock.com

The male pipefish has the ability to carry fertilized eggs with him

Pipefish Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Syngnathiformes
Family
Syngnathidae
Genus
Syngnathus
Scientific Name
Syngnathinae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Pipefish Conservation Status

Pipefish Locations

Pipefish Locations

Pipefish Facts

Prey
Crustaceans and plankton
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
The male pipefish has the ability to carry fertilized eggs with him
Estimated Population Size
Unknown
Biggest Threat
Habitat changes
Most Distinctive Feature
The tube-like snout
Other Name(s)
None
Gestation Period
2 weeks
Optimum pH Level
8.1-8.4 pH
Habitat
Oceans and estuaries
Predators
Gars, perch, drums, weakfish, and bass
Diet
Carnivore
Type
Ray-finned fish
Common Name
Pipefish
Number Of Species
200

Pipefish Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green
Skin Type
Boney Plates
Lifespan
5-10 years
Weight
Less than 0.5kg (1lb)
Length
2-65cm (1-26in)

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Male pipefish carry fertilized eggs within their body until they hatch.

The pipefish is a very long, narrow fish with an unusual pipe-shaped mouth. Some move through the water like a snake. There are some 200 recognized species within the same family classification, all of which have the same basic body shape. They are thought to be relatively weak swimmers in open water, but they seek protection from predators in shallow vegetation. Some of the most popular species include the northern pipefish, dragonface pipefish, and the banded pipefish.

4 Pipefish Facts

  • Some pipefish have formed a mutually beneficial relationship with other species. For instance, the bluestripe pipefish will pick off parasites directly from the bodies of other kinds of fish.
  • Pipefish can camouflage themselves by pretending to be a blade of grass. They will align their bodies vertically and even attempt to sway in rhythm with the rest of the grass.
  • Dusky pipefish have the ability to change color to blend in with the environment.
  • The body of the dragonface pipefish will actually glow under blue or ultraviolet light. This ability is known as biofluorescence. It may play some role in communication or camouflage.

Pipefish Classification and Scientific Name

The scientific name for the family is Syngnathidae. This scientific name comes from the combination of two Greek words: syn, meaning together, and gnathos, meaning jaw. It refers to the fact that the jaw of these fish is fused together. The pipefish classification makes it very closely related to the seahorse and sea dragon within the same family. Together they share a similar lineage.

Pipefish Appearance

The pipefish looks a bit like a straightened-out seahorse or a kind of dragon. Their heads are shaped into a long, narrow tube-like snout that ends in a toothless mouth, and their long bodies are covered in rings of bony armor. In order to help them swim, they have a pair of fins near the head, a long dorsal fin along the back, and another fin on the tail. However, unlike many other kinds of fish, they have lost their ribs and pelvic fin in the course of evolutionary history. They also have very long tails that, in some species, are prehensile and thus capable of anchoring itself to objects. Pipefish come in all manner of interesting colors, including green, yellow, red, and blue. There is plenty of diversity here: the banded pipefish, for instance, has a noticeable striped body and red paddle-like tail, whereas the dragonface pipefish has an unusual combination of black and white markings. Pipefish can range in size anywhere between 1 inch and 26 inches, but most are fairly small.

Pipefish Distribution, Population, and Habitat

Pipefish are found in tropical marine and subtropical environments all over the world, but some species do temporarily live in freshwater environments and estuaries. They are most often found hiding in sea grass beds and coral reefs for protection. While most species are found in shallow water, their range can extend up to depths of some 1,300 feet. Both the dragonface and banded pipefish are found in the Indo-Pacific, whereas the northern pipefish is found along the US Atlantic coast.

Pipefish are very widespread. Among the 200 species, the vast majority are classified as species of least concern or data deficient (meaning there isn’t enough data available) by the IUCN Redlist. Only a few of them are threatened in any way. Because they live in shallow habitats, pipefish can be somewhat vulnerable to industrial pollution runoff, boat disturbances, and other human-related issues.



Pipefish Predators and Prey

Pipefish are considered to be carnivorous fish. While they don’t have any teeth, pipefish do have the ability to suck up food directly into their mouths.

What eats the pipefish?

Pipefish may be preyed upon by gars, perch, drums, weakfish, and bass, but the sea grass provides plenty of protection against predators.

What does the pipefish eat?

Pipefish generally feeds on small organisms such as crustaceans and plankton.

Pipefish Reproduction and Lifespan

The pipefish mating season may vary by species, but the activity tends to peak around the summer months. Pipefish breeding usually occurs after a very lengthy courtship ritual in which both mates swim around each other, entwine their bodies, and communicate. Some pipefish may have multiple mates per breeding season. The eggs may be stuck directly a spongy area of his body or carried inside of a brood pouch. These pouches also vary by species: some are simple folds on the body, whereas others are actual cavities covered by a flap.

There is some evidence they can absorb nutrients from the eggs to survive when the food is scarce; this essentially means that he may consume his young when he’s hungry. The males incubate the eggs for about two weeks before they fully hatch. The small but fully-formed pipefish are then released into the water to feed and grow without any subsequent adult protection. A normal pipefish has a lifespan about five to 10 years long.

Pipefish in Fishing and Cooking

The pipefish is generally not caught for culinary purposes, but it may be rarely kept as an aquarium pet. They are considered fairly difficult fish to keep in an aquarium because of their very particular tank conditions, including the saltwater, plenty of grass, and higher than normal pH. Freshwater is not generally good for them long term. But due to their decent lifespan and unusual behavior and appearance, many people do like to keep them as pets. They get along best with members of the same pipefish, seahorse, and sea dragon family. They probably should not be paired with other types of animals in the aquarium.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

Pipefish FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are pipefish aggressive?

No, the pipefish is not considered to be a very aggressive fish. Because of their small size and lack of formidable defenses, they would rather hide from potential predators than fight.

Is a pipefish a seahorse?

The pipefish and seahorse are considered to be different types of animals, but they’re closely related to each other with the same taxonomical classification.

Do male pipefish get pregnant?

Male pipefish do keep fertilized eggs either attached to their body or inside of their body in a manner that can resemble pregnancy. He will even transfer nutrients directly to the eggs.

Where does a pipefish live?

Pipefish can be found near tropical seagrass beds or coral reefs all over the world.

What do pipefish eat?

They consume crustaceans and other small animals.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/pipefish
  2. , Available here: https://www.chesapeakebay.net/S=0/fieldguide/critter/pipefish
  3. , Available here: https://www.fishkeepingworld.com/pipefish/

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