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Pipefish

Syngnathus spp.

Pipefish camouflage themselves within grass beds by imitating blades of grass. They will align themselves vertically within grass beds and sway softly. (Virginia Institute of Marine Science)
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Pipefish camouflage themselves within grass beds by imitating blades of grass. They will align themselves vertically within grass beds and sway softly. (Virginia Institute of Marine Science)

Pipefish are small, skinny fish found among bay grass beds throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

Two species of pipefish can be found in the Chesapeake Bay:

  • Northern pipefish, Syngnathus fuscus
  • Dusky pipefish, Syngnathus floridae

Appearance:

  • Long, thin body covered with rings of bony plates
  • Long snout
  • Brownish, fan-shaped tail fin
  • Northern pipefish vary in color from pale tan to brown, with mottled tannish and brown markings
  • Dusky pipefish vary in color from whitish to brownish, with tan to nearly black markings
  • Dusky pipefish have a longer snout and a shorter dorsal fin than northern pipefish
  • Grow 6-8 inches long

Habitat:

  • Live among bay grass beds in shallow waters in summer
  • Retreat to deeper channel waters in winter

Range:

  • Live in the Chesapeake Bay year-round
  • Northern pipefish are found throughout the Bay into fresh water
  • Dusky pipefish are restricted to the middle and lower Bay, extending as far north as Calvert County, Maryland

Feeding:

  • Eats mostly tiny crustaceans
  • Northern pipefish may also feed on fish eggs, very small juvenile fish and other small aquatic animals

Predators:

  • Believed to have few predators due to their ability to camouflage themselves within grass beds. Pipefish imitate blades of grass by aligning themselves vertically within grass beds and swaying softly.
  • May be preyed upon by bass, gars, perch, drums and weakfish

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawn between April-October, with a peak in May-June
  • The female lays her eggs into the male’s brood pouch, where they are fertilized
  • The male incubates the eggs for approximately two weeks before they hatch. He then releases a cloud of tiny, fully-formed pipefish from his pouch into the water.

Other Facts:

  • The northern pipefish is also known as the common pipefish. It is the more abundant of the two Chesapeake Bay pipefish species.
  • Closely related to seahorses
  • Like lined seahorses, dusky pipefish are able to change color to match their surroundings

Sources and Additional Information:




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