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Dragonface Pipefish
(Corythoicthys haematopterus & intestinalis)

Dragonface, saltwater fish

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Dragonface pipefish are members of the family Syngnathidae. This family is comprised of over 50 individual species. It includes all pipefish and their very close relatives the seahorse. There are two different species called dragonface pipefish. Corythoichthys haematopterus is more commonly referred to as South Pacific or Tongan Dragonface Pipefish. Corythoichthys intestinalis is known as the West Pacific or Indonesian dragonface. These two species have slight variations in their body markings but look similar enough to one another to be indistinguishable to anyone save maybe an ichthyologist. The fact that each dragonface’s patterning is distinctive unto itself (just like seahorses) further complicates a layman’s efforts. There are over 12 subspecies based on regional differentiation of these two species.

A close look at a pipefish will reveal that these are indeed closely related to seahorses. They look very much like a small snake with the head of a seahorse. It is probably fair to say that these are seahorses that failed to achieve vertical orientation. While patterning does vary considerably from one individual to another, the base color of their bodies is generally cream. Patterning may be black, various shades of grey, pink, yellow or brown. Like seahorses, the pigmentation in these creatures is not fixed. They have the ability to morph their color patterning to blend in with their immediate surroundings. This form of camouflage is extremely effective against predation. Dragonfaces are also marketed by the aquarium industry under the pseudonyms network pipefish, reeftop pipefish, messmate pipefish and banded messmate pipefish. The latter reference is not to be confused with a banded pipefish. This is an entirely different species. 

Dragonsfaces are relatively small creatures. They will reach a maximum adult length of 7 inches. They have long cylindrical shaped bodies that taper into a tail section. Like seahorses, they have a highly modified skeletal system that forms into a type of armored plating. This external skeleton is a means of self defense and should not be confused with their internal skeletal system. They are vertebrates and have spines. This dermal skeletal system is composed of a series of longitudinal ridges. All pipefish have dorsal fins. None have ventral fins. In some species the dorsal fin is the primary means of locomotion. Dragonfaces, however, move through the water much more like an eel would. They slither over substrate and rock formations using snake-like motions. Many species have developed caudal fins as an aid to swimming. These are stronger swimmers than those who lack tail fins. Dragonfaces lack this adaptation. They are quite poor swimmers, especially when up against strong currents.  They have, however, developed prehensile tails much like seahorses. This gives them the ability to anchor themselves to stationary objects to avoid being swept away.

Like seahorses, these are exceptionally social creatures. A group of dragonfaces is much more likely to successfully adapt to life in captivity than a solitary specimen. These are very docile creatures and should not be mixed with larger or more aggressive species. Nor should they be housed with fast swimmers as they can easily be out competed for food. Gobies, dragnets, firefish and seahorses make for ideal tank mates. Dragons may, however, out compete seahorses for food. A group of several in a multi-species environment will require a minimum tanks size of 50 gallons. As to whether or not they are suitable for marine reef aquariums, this depends on the aquarium’s population. They should not be housed with anemones or corals with stinging tentacles. Since they are inclined to seek refuge in fauna, you should not house them with corals large enough to consume them. Although not officially not officially classified as a bottom dweller, pipe fish spend an inordinate amount of time near the bottom of an aquarium. Crustaceans with pinchers can and most likely will inflict damage upon them. 

Pipefish carry an expert aquarist care level for the same reason seahorses do. This is primarily due to their dietary habits in nature. Pipe fish are carnivorous. Their diet is comprised almost exclusively of live copepods found in reef formations and on live rock. An abundance of live rock is mandatory for these creatures’ survival. When they are first introduced to an aquarium, dragons can be fed Nutramar Tigrio Live Copepods and vitamin enriched brine shrimp. In time, they may become accustomed to eating non-living food offerings. If you are keeping you pipefish in a reef aquarium, they will prove a beneficial resource. Once they are feeding they will rid your Acropora coral of red bugs; a micro-amphipod that commonly infests these coral.

Dragons have been known to breed in captivity, but not with the frequency found in their prolific cousins the seahorse. Like seahorses, the male will carry the eggs in a brood pouch through the maturation process.

Environmental Parameters


pH Level Specific Gravity
72-78  °F 8.1-8.4 1.020-1.025

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