Blue Zoo: Ghost Pipefish


Featuring one amazing marine animal per week.


Ghost pipefishes are a group of small fishes with an unusual appearance. They live in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
 


One of several species of ghost pipefishes - the ornate ghost pipefish. Photo by Steven Childs via flickr, Creative Commons License. 


Ghost pipefishes have a real knack for camouflage. There are about five known species, and although they have different styles, they all know how to blend in – from the ornate ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) which tends to live among feather stars, to the robust ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus) which looks like a piece of algae.
 


A robust ghost pipefish. Photo by Elias Levy via flickr, Creative Commons License. 


Ghost pipefishes are sometimes also called false pipefishes because they are different from true pipefishes. Just like seahorses and true pipefishes, ghost pipefishes belong to the order Syngnathiformes. However, ghost pipefishes are in a different family, Solenostomidae, than true pipefishes and seahorses, which are in the family Syngnathidae.

One of the biggest differences between the two families is how they reproduce. In true pipefishes and seahorses, the male gives birth to the young. However in ghost pipefishes that role stays with the female. A female ghost pipefish has big pelvic fins that are fused together to create an egg pouch, where she broods their offspring.
 


Eggs inside a brooding pouch. Photo by Silke Baron via flickr, Creative Commons License. 


One thing they all have in common is a small, long mouth. They use it as a vacuum to suck up small planktonic animals like shrimp. The body is also long, and the skeleton is made of segmented bony plates.

These fish are small – even the biggest species don’t grow to more than 15cm (6inches). They are often found on the edges of coral reefs, floating with their head facing down. Often they are in pairs, with one smaller male and one bigger female.
 


Two robust pipefishes blending in with some seagrass. Photo by Elias Levy via flickr, Creative Commons License.


Although some of these species might appear far too bright and colorful to hide, in the vibrant coral reef environment, sometimes you have to stand out just to blend in! 


Primary source:  Allen, G.R. and Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Volumes I-III. Tropical Reef Research, Perth, Australia. Page 181-184.
 


This halimeda ghost pipefish (Solenostomus halimeda) lurks with his head down near some algae. Photo by Silke Baron via flickr, Creative Commons License. 
 


A pair of male and female robust ghost pipefishes. Photo by Silke Baron via flickr, Creative Commons License. 
 


An ornate ghost pipefish camouflaging among the branches of a gorgonian. Photo by Silke Baron via flickr, Creative Commons License.
 

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