With their incredible ability to mimic their surroundings and their tiny size, it is not surprising that these spectacular critters are seldom spotted by divers. Usually they are seen hovering next to their matching host, perfectly camouflaged. Their bodies are small and compressed, with large, often ornate fins. They can take on a wide variety of colours including red, white and yellow, depending on their surroundings.
The ghost pipefish has a long head which makes up an impressive 44 percent of its total length. This species is named for its long, tubular snout with the genus name, Solenostomus, being derived from the Greek words solen, meaning ‘tube-like’, and stoma, meaning ‘mouth’.
Ghost Pipefish are found in shallow tropical seas throughout the Asia Pacific region. Certain species are relatively common on some of Asia’s reefs, but a good eye is needed to spot them. the ghost pipefish can either be found floating around in the open ocean , or associated with inshore and offshore reef and deep, clear estuaries. The ghost pipefish tends to prefer coastal reefs with seaweed beds, sea grass flats, areas of detritus or soft corals.
Depending on the species, Ghost Pipefish mimic and live alongside a variety of hosts including: crinoids, soft corals, sea grass, hydroids and algae. Ghost Pipefish are also characterized by their hard body plates and tubular snouts, similar to the closely related seahorses.
Like its relatives the ‘true’ pipefish, the ghost pipefish does not have scales, and is instead incased in a series of bony plates. In many respects, they are similar to the pipefishes, but can be distinguished by the presence of pelvic fins, a prominent, spiny, dorsal fin, and star-shaped plates on the skin.
Ghost Pipefish often hang upside down while feeding. The unassuming prey is sucked up at the last minute through the specially adapted snout. They tend to make their homes in current swept areas, close to a steady stream of food.
Ghost pipefish reach a maximum length of 15 cm and they hang almost always upside down. Most of them are not even bigger than your little finger or forefinger. They have a laterally compressed body, which is typical for all fish of the syngnathoid. The head is characterized by a relatively long snout and takes almost up to one third of their total body length. It is usually pointed downwards because the head is very essential to their feeding habits. Through their long snout they suck small crustaceans (like shrimps) from the bottom inside. So it is quite obvious why ghost pipefish usually hang upside down. Ghost Pipefish feed on minute crustaceans and other plankton, which are sucked up though their tube like snouts.
Female Ghost Pipefish can be up to twice as large as males and groups of smaller males are often seen accompanying a larger female as she produces and incubates the eggs each year to breed. Unlike true pipefish, female ghost pipefishes who incubates the eggs in a pouch created by hooking together their ventral fins. After incubation, the eggs are released into the water column and are planktonic, travelling with the currents until they find a suitable reef to inhabit.
The ghost pipefish comes in a variety of color and forms:
Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Harlequin Ghost Pipefish) – The ornate ghost pipefish is most common member of the family, as well as the most colorful. It lives in association with crinoids, black corals, gorgonians and soft corals. Ornates will adopt the coloration of the environment it settles in after its larval stage.
Robust Ghost Pipefish – Other than ornates, robust are the most common ghost pipefish family member. They, too, have few different colour variations. The most common is brown, varying from light to dark depending on the environment. In areas that have seagrass beds, green variations can be found, and these generally make nicer photographs. They can also come in pale red, purplish, yellowish and white, all coloring themselves to blend in with their environment.
Rough-Snout Ghost Pipefish – It comes in shades of brown, light tan to green and has skin filaments on the snout and body, which are often long, and hair like. Found solitary or in pairs in sand and rubble areas, often in association with filamentous algae. Extent of hairy growth is variable and the extremely hairy individuals may even be a separate species.
Halimeda Ghost Pipefish – Green to whitish grey, as the name suggests it is found living with Halimeda, which is a hard, green calcareous alga that often forms large patches on the reef. The ghost pipefish has rounded fins that resemble the individual growth segments of the Halimeda.
Velvet Ghost Pipefish – The velvet ghost pipefish is another taxonomically undescribed species and again could possibly be a variation of the robust. This species is one of the more colourful ghost pipefishes existing in white, baby pink and brilliant red. This fish will also let algae grow on it’s body to assist it with blending into it environment.
Hairy Ghost Pipefish – Not yet officially been scientifically described and named but is fairly well known from the Coral Sea region between Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It is covered in long red filaments and has a more compact body than the hairy forms of the rough snout ghost pipefish, with which it could possibly be confused.
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