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Introducing the pipefish

Pipefishes are the lesser-known relatives of seahorses, but are just as fascinating. Pipefishes and seahorses belong to the scientific family Syngnathidae, which represents more than 200 species of fishes found throughout the world. Along North America’s west coast there are eight different species of pipefish and one species native to Southern California is the bay pipefish or Syngnathus leptorhynchus.

The bay pipefish spends most of its life nearshore among aquatic plants in bays and estuaries. A preferred plant habitat is eel grass, which makes sense since bay pipefish are able to camouflage perfectly within a grassy environment. With long, slender bodies and light greenish-brown coloring, bay pipefish actually look more like grass than fish to the untrained eye.

Growing up to 15 inches long and less than half an inch wide, bay pipefish look easily breakable just like the long, slim pipes from the mid-1700’s that they’re named after. Don’t let this vulnerable appearance fool you, the bay pipefish is quite hardy and can survive in saltwater, freshwater and water temperatures close to freezing.

This willowy but sturdy little fish accomplishes a lot in a lifespan that only lasts one to two years. They grow up quickly by slurping up small crustaceans and fish larvae through toothless mouths. Once they reach sexual maturity, usually after growing at least six-inches long, female pipefish court the males. Similar to seahorses after a successful courtship, male pipefish carry and incubate the eggs in a pouch for about two weeks.

Male pipefish are quite accommodating and will carry the eggs of up to three different females at the same time. Once the eggs hatch, baby pipefish are on their own to launch the lifecycle of the next generation. Whether small or large, pipefish are really fun to watch. A delicate dorsal fin rapidly undulates, propelling the pipefish forward, and an equally delicate fan-shaped tail fin provides extra momentum. Shifting their heads side to side pipefish tend to swim vertically, keeping their bodies and movement in alignment with the eel grass that surrounds them.

Staff members in CMA’s Aquatic Nursery have been successfully breeding pipefish since 2004. Currently, Student Researcher Collette Toal, an 11th grader at Immaculate Heart High School, is observing pipefish behaviors that could potentially help predict when courting takes place. During a three-month project, she will be monitoring how pipefish behaviors change with rising water temperatures that match the lead up to summer spawning season.

During your next visit to the Aquarium, stop in and see the adult and baby pipefish in the Aquatic Nursery. This is one skinny fish you don’t want to miss.



Post Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

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