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What is a Pipefish?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

A pipefish is a small fish that is found in many areas of the world. Within the animal classification system, it belongs to the Syngnathinae family, along with seahorses. In appearance, the pipefish looks a lot like a seahorse might if it were straightened out. They spend much of their time in sheltered areas and feed during the day. An interesting behavior of pipefish is that the males are the ones who incubate the eggs during breeding.

Within the Syngnathinae family, there are more than 200 species of pipefish. In most cases they have long, narrow, straight bodies with ridges. The head looks like that of a seahorse, with a long snout, which resembles a tube or a pipe and gives the fish its popular name. The body is usually covered in bone-like ridged plates, and the fins are extremely small. The pipefish comes in a variety of colors, and many have either a speckled or striped appearance.


Most pipefish species live in salt water, although a few reside in fresh water. Some can even go between the two. They are found in bodies of water all over the world, mainly in the temperate and tropical regions. They tend to live near the shore and prefer areas that provide shelter, such as seagrass beds and coral reefs. Their main defense mechanism is hiding from predators, so they tend to avoid the open water. They have been known to quickly retreat to a hiding spot, or to camouflage themselves in the tall seagrass in order to escape detection.

The diet of the pipefish consists mostly of tiny crustaceans, along with plankton, worms, and tiny fish in smaller quantities. They are diurnal, meaning they feed exclusively during the day, and they spend most of the day eating because their bodies are inefficient at digesting food. Their mouths have no teeth, so they suck in their food using their pipe-like mouths like a straw. If food can't fit in their mouths they suck the soft flesh out and leave the rest.

Pipefish usually reproduce between the late spring and early summer, most often in shallow water. The female takes on the traditionally male role of attracting a mate, and is often more brightly colored and larger than the male. Meanwhile, the male takes the traditionally female role of incubating the eggs.

During mating, the female rubs up against the male's body and deposits her eggs into his brood pouch, which is an area of his body where the eggs will be carried and nurtured until birth. The male keeps the eggs in the pouch until the babies are fully formed, usually about two to three weeks. Once they are released from the pouch the young are usually able to survive independently.

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