Marine life has always fascinated mankind. Be it for the variety of seafood or the diversity of flora and fauna, the inquisitory nature of human beings has encouraged them to explore the various facets of marine ecology. From the gigantic blue whale to the tiny pipefish, marine fauna consists of a wide variety of aquatic creatures.
As the name suggests, pipefish have tubular snouts, and belong to the family of seahorses. Along with seahorses and sea dragons, pipefish come under the family Syngnathidae. This family is divided into four subfamilies, the seahorses (Hippocampinae), the sea dragons (Solegnathinae), the pipefish (Syngnathinae) and the flag-tailed pipefish (Doryhamphinae).
You may also come across a different type of classification where the family Syngnathidae is divided into two subfamilies - Hippocampinae with 47 species of seahorses, and two crested pipefish; and Syngnathinae with 200 species of pipefish, and two species of sea dragons. In short, there are around 200 species of pipefish that belong to 54 genera.
Pipefish are seen abundantly in the tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate zones; and they inhabit sheltered areas, like coral reefs and grass beds. Pipefish prefer coastal waters to the deep seas. Many species are found in estuaries too. Most of them are marine, but some can be found in freshwater. Pipefish feed on small fish, fish eggs, and crustaceans.
A pipefish has a long pipe-like snout, which ends in a small toothless mouth with an upward opening. It has small gill openings, and can roll its eyes independently. The body of a pipefish is long and thin. An average pipefish has no pelvic fin, but a single, dorsal fin that is responsible for locomotion. Absence of fins makes them very slow swimmers.
Some species have a well-developed fin at the posterior end of their body. This caudal fin helps them in swimming. Pipefish with caudal fins are called flag-tailed pipefish. Unlike their counterparts, flag-tailed pipefish can swim fast. Some species have a prehensile tail, which can be used for holding or grasping.
Pipefish can be seen in a variety of colors and designs. Some species can change their colors with their surroundings. They always tend to move around in groups, and sway in the same manner, as the sea grass sways with the water currents. They have a unique method of food intake. A vacuum is created in the mouth, and the prey is sucked in automatically.
In pipefish, reproduction is almost male-centric. The breeding season is from April to October. They display their dancing skills to woo the opposite sex. Polyandry is widely prevalent among the pipefish species. However, some species prefer monogamy.
The female pipefish deposits eggs in a brood pouch, which is attached to the ventral side of the male. The eggs get fertilized and incubated in this pouch. As the eggs in the pouch are attached to the abdominal wall, they get nourishment from the bloodstream of the male.
Some species have a well-developed pouch, whereas some have a spongy skin attached to their body. In the latter case, the eggs are attached to that skin until they hatch. After the incubation period of 14 days, the pouch ruptures, releasing the young ones into water.
Soon after hatching, the young ones start swimming and feeding, without any help from their parents. In fact, this ability helps them to safeguard their life from the adult pipefish who may try to feed on them.
It has been noticed that, pipefish can thrive well in fish tanks. The tank should contain algae and corals. The water current should be kept low. Special care must be taken as far as their food is concerned. They prefer small ghost shrimp, brine shrimp, and copepods.
As they are slow swimmers, they cannot fight with other species in the aquarium for food. Hence, it is not advisable to keep pipefish with other species. They can be kept with seahorses, as both belong to the same family. Alligator pipefish is commonly seen in aquariums.
Even though pipefish do not resemble conventional fish, they add to the diversity of aquatic fauna. They are pretty, little creatures who are part of this beautiful world.