Ribboned pipefish (Haliichthys taeniophorus)

Ribboned seadragon portrait, captive

Top facts

  • Like other pipefish species, the ribboned pipefish does not have scales, and is instead encased in a series of bony rings.
  • The ribboned pipefish has an unusual breeding system in which the male looks after the eggs in a specialised brood pouch until they hatch.
  • Ribboned pipefish are members of the Syngnathidae family, which contains pipefish, seahorses, and the weedy and leafy sea dragons.
  • As in other pipefish species, the ribboned pipefish has a slender, elongate body and a tube-like snout, but it can be distinguished by the presence of leafy appendages on its head and body.
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Ribboned pipefish fact file

Ribboned pipefish description

GenusHaliichthys (1)

The ribboned pipefish (Haliichthys taeniophorus) belongs to the Syngnathidae, a family of fish consisting of seahorses, pipefishes, and the weedy and leafy sea dragons. This family is named for its distinctive jaw structure, with syngnathus meaning ‘fused jaw’ in Greek (4).

Like other pipefish species, the ribboned pipefish has a slender, elongate body and a small mouth located at the tip of a long, tube-like snout (5) (6). Interestingly, pipefish species do not have scales, but are instead encased in a series of bony rings (6). The ribboned pipefish is a relatively large member of the Syngnathidae, and is the only species in the genus Haliichthys (2). This name comes from the Greek words als meaning ‘salt’ and ichthys meaning ‘fish’ (2) (5).

The ribboned pipefish is quite an ornate species, with relatively short, strong, prominent spines on its head and body, in addition to spines or knobs on its body ridges (2). This species has a single dorsal fin (6), and its head and body are adorned with leafy appendages (2). It is these appendages, as well as its large size, that distinguish the ribboned pipefish from other pipefish species (2).

The colouration and patterning of the ribboned pipefish are variable (2), and appear to be dependent on habitat type. Some individuals are brown or reddish with a white belly, irregular dark bands or blotches across the back, and black leafy appendages (2) (7), and are generally caught in trawls, whereas ribboned pipefish found in shallower water tend to be greenish-yellow (2). Male and female ribboned pipefish differ slightly in appearance (5), with the male sporting a brood pouch (2) (5) (6).

Also known as
ribboned pipehorse, ribboned seadragon.
Haliichthys taeniophora.
Length: up to 30 cm (2) (3)

Ribboned pipefish biology

Although little information is available on the specific biology of the ribboned pipefish, this species is known to prey on small planktonic crustaceans (2), and feeds by sucking them up into its elongated snout (4).

Like other pipefish and seahorses, ribboned pipefish have an unusual breeding system in which the male is in charge of egg incubation (6). The female ribboned pipefish has a specialised organ known as an ovipositor (5), which is used to deposit the pear-shaped, yellowish or orange eggs (2) onto the underside of the male, where they are fertilised (6). The male then carries the eggs around in a semi-exposed ‘brood pouch’ located under its tail (2) (4) (5) (6). The pouch is surrounded by blood capillaries to supply oxygen to the developing embryos (2) (6). When the young ribboned pipefish hatch, they look very similar to the adults (2).


Ribboned pipefish range

A tropical species (5), the ribboned pipefish is found in the Indo-Pacific, from the Indonesian waters around Irian Jaya to southern Papua New Guinea, and parts of northern and western Australia (2) (3) (7). In its Australian range, the ribboned pipefish occurs from the waters of Shark Bay in Western Australia to the Torres Strait in northern Queensland (1) (5).


Ribboned pipefish habitat

A marine species (5), the ribboned pipefish is known to inhabit a wide variety of inshore shallow water areas (2) (4), including coral reefs and sea beds associated with algae, seaweed, sponges or seagrass (2) (4) (5). Although this species is generally found over soft substrates such as sand and mud (2) (5), it is also known to occur in more rocky and gravelly habitats (2). The ribboned pipefish is usually found at water depths up to 16 metres (2) (5).


Ribboned pipefish status

The ribboned pipefish has yet to be classified on the IUCN Red List.


Ribboned pipefish threats

The ribboned pipefish is not thought to be facing any major threats at present. However, it is known to inhabit trawling grounds, although data on bycatch of this species has not been well documented (2). In addition, many species of pipefish are sold in Asian markets as food, curios, medicine and aphrodisiacs (6).


Ribboned pipefish conservation

The ribboned pipefish is not known to be the target of any specific conservation actions, although it is protected under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (2).


Find out more

Find out more about the ribboned pipefish and other pipefish species:

Learn more about marine conservation in Australia:

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Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
Dorsal fin
The unpaired fin found on the back of the body of fish, or the raised structure on the back of most cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Of or relating to plankton; aquatic organisms, usually tiny, that drift passively with water movements. Includes phytoplankton (plants), zooplankton (animals), or other organisms such as bacteria.


  1. Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (December, 2012)
  2. Fishes of Australia - Ribboned pipehorse (December, 2012)
  3. Jennings, G.H. (1997) The Sea and Freshwater Fishes of Australia & New Guinea: North East, North, North-West Australia and New Guinea: The 1997 Classified Taxonomic Checklist. Calypso Publications, London.
  4. BBC Nature - Syngnathidae (December, 2012)
  5. Fishbase - Haliichthys taeniophorus (December, 2012)
  6. Carpenter, K.E. (2002) Syngnathidae. In:The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. Volume 4: Bony Fishes Part 2 (Mugilidae to Carangidae). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:

  7. Weber, M.C.W. and de Beaufort, L.F. (1929) The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Brill Archive, Holland.

Image credit

Ribboned seadragon portrait, captive  
Ribboned seadragon portrait, captive

© Sylvain Cordier / Biosphoto

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