Pipefish

By Paul B, Dec 15, 2016 | |
  1. I would like to discuss one of my favorite fish, the pipefish. Pipefish to me are so much different from normal fishy looking fish that I can't help but to love them. There are more things different in pipefish than similar to normal looking fish. They are so different that at one time, in the 1800s pipefish were considered to be insects instead of fish.

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    They probably got that idea because they have an external skeleton composed of bony plates instead of scales so when you pick one up, it is not slimy like a fish but feels more like an insect. Due to the plates that are composed of calcium, pipefish, unlike other fish require a high content of calcium in their water. Pipefish also have an internal skeleton like a fish, although I don't know why. I have on occasion tried to autopsy pipefish after they died to try to find out more about them, but their insides resemble styrofoam more than anything else and I can't determine what I am looking at. I would imagine if you had enough of them you could stuff them in the cracks next to your windows for insulation.

    Most pipefish only have a dorsal fin and are weak swimmers although in some species like the flagtail pipefishes they also have a tail fin and can move rather fast but they won't be competing in the Olympics any time soon. Another weird thing about pipefishes is they can't move their jaws. They have jaws but they are fused together. To eat, there is a small flap at the end of their snout that opens upwards, which is backwards from all other fish. That long tubular snout is how the pipefish got it's name, not from it's shape which I find odd. I would have named them pipefish just by their shape even if thay had a snout like Richard Nixon. The pipefish can exert a fairly strong vacuum through their snout that allows them to suck in prey rather efficiently but lacking teeth of any kind, they can only consume tiny, whole prey.

    There are about 200 types of pipefish but the majority of them are not in the aquarium trade. Many are just too rare or widespread to be collected and some just won't live in captivity.

    The common banded pipefish that is quite common in home aquariums spends much of its time in the sea cleaning parasites off moray eels. I don't have much luck keeping them myself but I know many people do keep them. All pipefish need live food although some will accept frozen food if it is small enough. Unless your tank has a large population of resident live food such as pods, most pipefish will be very difficult to keep. The reason is that like seahorses, pipefish do not possess a stomach and cannot store any food, they hardly have an intestine either. Due to this food storage limitation, pipefish (seahorses and mandarins) must eat continuously and that is what they were designed to do. They are constant eaters sort of like a girl I used to date, but she preferred to dine on lobsters or anything that was at least $9.00 a pound.

    If you have an aged tank with smaller, calmer fish and no anemones you should be able to keep some types of pipefish. Most healthy pipefish will spawn in a tank. My bluestripes spawn continuously. Many types of pipefish will form bonds but in the sea these bonds only last for the season. If they stay together longer than that the females start to nag and talk about marriage so the males move out. But in a tank they will usually bond for life.
    It is the males of the pipefish that have the babies. The females lay eggs right into the males pouch and it is he that nurtures them with sort of a placenta. Some pipefish do not have a pouch so the females just stick the eggs on to the underside of the male and he carries them. Inside the pouch, the male supplies food and oxygen to the embryos until it is time for them to swim off on their own, some looking exactly like their parents, dimpled cheeks and all.

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    Pregnant Bluestripe Pipefish

    The male is the limiting factor in how many babies will hatch as the female usually lays more eggs than the male can carry. In this case, the eggs just fall to the substrate where they rot or I would imagine some of them may be collected by White House personnel at Easter time to have an Easter Egg roll on the Great lawn. As the eggs start to develop, sometimes there is not enough room in the pouch and some of the fry are expelled. The male may eat them or some pipefish have the ability to absorb the fry right through their pouch to provide nutrition to the male if food is scarce. That’s weird.

    I let my pipefish graze all day and they have a very old tank that is not very sterile to do that. I also supplement their diet every day with new born, live brine shrimp. You can just release the shrimp into the water but I usually put them in a feeder that I designed for these types of creatures that need to eat throughout the day. I also turn off the pumps as pipefish are slow creatures and seem rather near sighted. Pipefish have one of the shortest lifespans of aquarium fish living only 3 or 4 years. If you buy an adult pipefish, it may be near the end of its lifespan. One more slight problem in keeping pipefish is that their gill opening, unlike normal fish is not a slit, but a small pore and it clogs easily if there is debris in the water. Due to my tiny bluestripe pipefish I can't do my normal maintenance which consists of stirring up my gravel. Every time I have done that, I would lose the bluestipes which is unfortunate because bluestrip pipefish are among the easiest pipefish to keep not requiring extra food as they are good hunters of pods and can fare for themselves.

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    About Author

    Paul B
    I have been keeping fish since about 1952. I started with saltwater the week they were imported to New York City in 1971.

    My first SCUBA dive was on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia while I was on R&R from Vietnam in 1970, and since then I have acquired almost 300 dives. About half of those were in New York where I mostly dove for lobsters, urchins or just exploring some of the 2,000 wrecks around Long Island.

    I have bred blue devils, clownfish, seahorses, pipefish, bangai cardinals, watchman gobies, clown gobies and a few others. My 100 gallon reef tank was started in 1971 and is currently still running.

    I have two aquarium related patents. The first patent was a seahorse and reef fish feeder and the latest one is the Majano Wand. I recently published a book called "The Avant-Garde Marine Aquarist" and have spoken four times at aquarium clubs.
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