Members of the family Syngnathidae, more commonly known as Pipe Fish, can be found throughout the world both in brackish and marine waters. Coldwater species can be found around the British coast and there are seven species that have been recorded as being quite common. We shall deal with these coldwater species first:
Syngnathus acus, the Great Pipe Fish
Syphonostoma typhle, Broad-nosed Pipe Fish.
Entelurus aequoreus, the Snake, or Ocean Pipe Fish.
Nereophis lumbriciformis, Worm Pipe Fish.
Nereophis ophidion, Straight-nosed Pipe Fish.
The first two species are quite common~ the latter quite rare.
The Great Pipe Fish grows to about eighteen inches whereas the Broad-nosed Pipe Fish will only reach about thirteen inches. Spawning of all species takes place in early spring and although the fry seem to be entirely independent of their parents they will retreat to the brood pouch of the male at the slightest hint of danger. They have an unusual way of swimming; sometimes they are perpendicular with either the head or tail uppermost; sometimes horizontal. Progress generally is slow and the fish only just manages to maintain its position in the water, but a completely different writhing motion is used when rapid movement is required. The Pipe Fishes, not only in their shape and colour but also in their slowly swaying action, bear a marked resemblance to the fronds of seaweed among which they live. Pipe Fishes live almost entirely on small crustaceans and when searching for food they swim about slowly in a most curious manner, the head in constant movement, the long snout being poked into clumps of vegetation or into any other situation where the prey is likely to be encountered. The actual manner of feeding is remarkable – the tube like ‘beak’ acting as a kind of syringe, the prey being draw in rapidly by inflating the cheeks. The close relatives of’ the Pipe Fishes, the Hippocampids (Seahorses) act in a like manner. Gill structure is different in the Syngnathiformes, sometimes spoken of as Lophobranchs (tuft gills), the filaments are reduced to small rosette-like tufts attached to quite rudimentary arches.
Pipe Fish in aquaria whether tropical or native coldwater, thrive on a diet of live brine shrimp (Artemia salina) but if this cannot be given daphnia may be substituted. In my experience they will accept no other foods. Tetramarin, tubifex, frozen and dried brine shrimp: all were tried without success on either the tropical or native species. In the wild their food consists of tiny crustaceans only, and it seems that as they are specially adapted to eat this food they will take no other. If, however, the feeding problem can be overcome they make lively and unusual additions to the aquarium and unlike seahorses may be kept in a community set-up with other species. Clown fish even seem to take hardly any notice of these oddly shaped ‘twigs of seaweed’.
A list of tropical species would not be practicable here as there are so many, but they all require the same conditions and are of the same feeding habits and generic family, Syngnathidae.
Classification of Pipe fishes: Isospondyli. Order Solenichthyes, Family Syngnathidae, Genus Syngnathus Nereophis, Entelurus, Syphostoma (Syphonostoma) etc.
(Solenichthyes -Tube mouth).
Reprinted with permission. Gerald is a Director of the Calypso Group www.calypso.org.uk, and webmaster of Ifocas www.ifocas.fsworld.co.uk