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Ghost Pipefish

pipefish, saltwater fish

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Ghost pipefish are not actually pipefish. They are members of the family Solenostomidae. They are closely related to both seahorses and pipefish of the family Syngnathidae. Ghost pipefish fall into a single genus, Solenostomus. This genus is comprised of only 5 species. These species are endemic to the tropical waters from the Indian to the western Pacific Oceans. They inhabit shallow water reef formations from southern Japan to Australia.

These are peculiar animals both in appearance and in behavior. This species more resembles a form of coral more than it does a fish. They actually spend the majority of their lives upside down. They drift nearly motionless just above a coral reef or the ocean floor with their mouths pointed downwards.  This upside down existence is essential to their feeding habits. They feed by sucking up tiny crustaceans through their elongated snouts. Ghost pipefish are commonly referred to as false pipefish or tubemouth fish. The latter refers to their long, cylindrical shaped snouts. Their heads in fact account for almost 1/3 of their total body length.

These are small creatures. The largest species of ghost pipefish only grows to a maximum length of 6 inches. There are a number of anatomical differences that distinguish real from the false pipefish. Instead of armored rings, ghosts are laden with large bony, star-shaped plates. Ghosts have two dorsal fins whereas seahorses and pipefish have only one. Seahorses and pipefish lack pelvic fins. Ghosts possess enlarged pelvic fins. In females these fins fuse together to form a brood pouch. Unlike seahorses and pipefish, the females of these species carry the eggs through to maturation rather than the male. Ghosts can not only change color, they can change their physical shape as well.

Ghost pipefish are elusive creatures to even the most experienced divers and underwater photographers. They are virtual masters of disguise. They spend most of their time among host fauna such as crinoids, soft corals, sea grass, and hydroids. They can change their shape and color to mimic their hosts to the point where they blend right in with the host almost seamlessly. Ornate ghost pipefish have elaborate projections covering their heads and bodies to help further camouflage themselves against their backgrounds.

Of the 5 species in this their genius only two appear to have documentation of any consequence; the ornate or harlequin ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) and the robust ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus). A thorough search online failed to reveal a single retailer for these exotic species.

Environmental Parameters


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

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