Delay:   Loop: [stop] [reverse direction]

Pipefish are a small group of fish from within the family Syngnathidae, meaning 'jaw fused.' Although the Syngnathidae is commonly called the Pipefish family, the most notable fish of this family are in the subfamily Hippocampinae, the Seahorses. In total, the Pipefish family contains four subfamilies, 55 genera, and over 320 species (Kuiter, 2000). At one point the animals in this family were thought to be insects (Rafinesque, 1810; Michael, 1998), but it is now clearly known these animals are actually fish, even if they are strange-looking fish.

Provided the needs of the pipefish are met, these fish can live many years within the confines of a home aquarium. Lifespan is currently considered five to ten years in an aquarium. The correct water parameters, tankmates, food options and tank design are all of importance, and can each lead to success or failure.

Starting with water parameters, like any saltwater fish, the hobbyist should strive for tank conditions as near to natural saltwater conditions (NSW) as possible. Unlike most other fish, the calcium level in the aquarium is important to pipefish. Their bony exoskeleton depends on the calcium to maintain its strength. Calcium levels from 350ppm and up should be sufficient. Remembering most pipefish are subtropical, aquarium temperatures should range from 72 to 80° F.

Fellow tankmates are a paramount consideration in a pipefish tank, and often is the difference between success and failure. As a whole, pipefish will not pester any fish. They are, for the most part, oblivious to anything else in the tank that does not fit into their tiny mouths. This general rule can be extended from fish to corals, and mobile invertebrates. However, in that same regard, if it can fit into their mouth, it likely will be consumed. This would include all micro fauna in the aquarium, as well as fish and shrimp fry. Despite the low-key personality of pipefish, their tankmates often pester them. All but the smallest, most peaceful fish should be eliminated from a pipefish aquarium. Suitable tankmates would include most gobies, dragonettes, other seahorses and shrimpfish. Any fast-swimming fish is likely to agitate the pipefish and keep them in hiding. Fish that are aggressive feeders are likely to do the same. Any fish that tends to be "curious" is likely to annoy the pipefish. This would include wrasses, blennies and dwarf angels. Naturally, predatory fish often times make a quick snack out of pipefish. Large predatory mobile invertebrates such as certain starfish species, lobsters and hermit crabs should be avoided, as well as any potentially strong-venom corals such as any LPS corals and anemones.

Ensuring the proper size food, and that enough of it reaches the pipefish, is another major concern. Thankfully, hobbyists are becoming more informed on this important detail, and as such many ill-prepared hobbyists have rightfully avoided this family. Food items would include any of the naturally growing microfaunal animals found in our aquariums, including copepods, amphipods and mysid shrimp. Therefore, the hobbyist would be smart to encourage the natural growths of these animals. A dedicated refugium for a pipefish tank is a wise idea, or a large refugium can make a perfect pipefish aquarium itself. Pipefish are regularly found searching algae beds for food in the wild. These algae beds encourage the colonization by microfauna, and therefore colonies of macro algae like various Caulerpa species are important additions into any pipefish aquarium. When additional foods are required, the best substitutes are live foods. Hatching brine shrimp, mosquito larvae or even daphnia at home can prove to be a successful means of food supplementation, or a welcome treat for pipefish that normally do not need an additional food source. In many situations, pipefish are not willing to accept frozen/thawed prepared foods. In time some individuals may begin to accept prepared adult brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp or any number of commercially available foods. Most specimens, however, will never accept prepared foods. Be prepared to supply live foods for the lifespan of your pipefish should you consider obtaining these fish. Most importantly, due to the lack of stomach and inefficient intestines, the hobbyist must be prepared to provide large amounts of these foods. If you are counting on the bulk of the pipefish diet to be supplied by yourself, consider that three feedings per day is the minimum necessary.

Lastly, tank design is significant. This aspect isn't nearly as important as the three previously discussed requirements, but nonetheless, these minimal requirements should not be considered voluntary. An active, healthy sandbed should be required. If possible, sand from several different sources should be acquired to ensure as much diversity as possible. This sandbed will supply a large percentage of the naturally occurring foods for the pipefish. Likewise, good quantities of porous live rock are desirable. As mentioned above, various colonies of algae are also prime locations of microfaunal colonization, and thus should be considered mandatory in the pipefish aquarium. Caves and overhangs are a wise idea, both as a comfort factor for your pipefish, and for the viewing pleasure of the hobbyists. In most cases, you can design your rockwork to feature overhangs in prime locations for your viewing, and your Doryrhamphus sp. will immediately take to this overhang. Without these overhangs, the pipefish is likely to take up residence somewhere buried behind the rockwork, much to the disappointment of all intending on viewing these fish.

Photos by Reef Central members.
Text from: There's More to Pipes Than Just PVC:
The Genus Doryrhamphus and Other Pipefish

by Henry C. Schultz III.

If you'd like to suggest a topic for ReefSlides, click here or use the button to the right.

Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008