Male RoughsnoutDetail of a male green roughsnout Ghost pipefish; this is the mate of the female shown earlier. The smooth lateral body lines resemble the seagrass and its “rough snout” has skin tags that closely resemble algae.
Pipefish deserve some big credit for being such small creatures. Some say the ornate ghost pipefish were the first sought-after critters that launched the whole macro muck-diving craze back in the early 1980s.
There are approximately 200 species of pipefish (Syngnathinae) known to exist, ranging from boring to bizarre. They are a small, fused-jaw fish in the family Syngathidae that also includes the seahorse, sea dragon and pipehorse. The fused jaw trait is something the entire family has in common.
But the ghost pipefish form a smaller family called Solenostomidea in the order of Songnathiformes. This smaller group, sometimes called a “false pipefish”, recognises only five known species so far, though I think there may be more waiting to be discovered. The five identified ornate ghost pipefish are commonly known as harlequin, Halimeda, robust, roughsnout and velvet.
The ornate ghost pipefishes are superb hunters, stealthy and stunning in appearance. They almost never use the substrate to move about and can be found hovering near crinoids, sea grass, ropes, pilings, gorgonians, or sea fans. The more common pipefish are found worldwide whilst the ornates are found primarily in the Indo-Pacific, Southeast Asian, and Indian oceans.
The cute and curious appearance of these amazing critters should not be confused with their ability to survive. Their elongated slender bodies are encased in a bony, ringed suit of armour. The skin tissue is covered in patterns, skin tags or cirri that help to accentuate their cloaking abilities and allow them to closely mimic the host they use to hide. Their large, independently moving eyes allow them to hunt without being hunted and their chameleon-like ability helps them to quickly adapt to their environment. Photographers love these guys for their bright colours, but often have difficulty locating them without a knowledgeable guide.
The main food source for the ghost pipefish family is mysid shrimp, small crustaceans, worms, and small insects. Watching a ghost pipefish hunt is fascinating. As they move closer to their prey, they will assume a snout-down posture, and then without warning, vacuum their prey through their bony tubular snouts. These stealthy predators will consume their own body weight in food each day, almost without effort.
Mike Bartick was born and raised in Southern California, not far from the ocean, in Huntington Beach. After finding his first nudibranch on an Open Water checkout dive, he was immediately hooked on diving. Bartick, who splits his time between the Indo-Pacific and the Eastern Pacific as a freelance photographer, photojournalist and field guide, shoots with a Nikon D300 and D300s, Sea and Sea housings, and YS-D1 and YS 250 pro strobes. To see more of his work, go to saltwaterphoto.com