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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)
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:

Pipefish grow 6 to 8 inches in length and have long, thin bodies covered with rings of bony plates. They have long snouts and brownish, fan-shaped tail fins. 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.

Habitat:

Live among bay grass beds in shallow waters in summer, retreating to deeper channel waters in winter.

Range:

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

Feeding:

The pipefish eats mostly tiny crustaceans. Northern pipefish may also feed on fish eggs, very small juvenile fish and other small aquatic animals.

Predators:

Pipefish are believed to have few predators due to their ability to camouflage themselves within grass beds. They imitate blades of grass by aligning themselves vertically within grass beds and swaying softly. Bass, gars, perch, drums and weakfish may prey upon pipefish.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Spawning occurs between April and October, with a peak in May to 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.
  • Pipefish are 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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