Spiny pipehorse (Solegnathus spinosissimus)

Male spiny pipehorse with eggs
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Spiny pipehorse fact file

Spiny pipehorse description

GenusSolegnathus (1)

Pipehorses are small fishes with slender and elongate bodies (3). Unlike many other fish, their bodies have no internal bones or external scales, and are instead encased in a series of hard, spiny rings (3) (4). The largest member of the Syngnathidae family occurring in Australia (5), the spiny pipehorse has a long and tubular snout, with a small, toothless mouth situated at the tip (3). It may be yellow, pink or orange in colour, patterned with narrow yellow bars and variable dark bars and blotches, and the area around the anus is red-brown (5). The tail is prehensile (5), enabling it to grasp to corals, sponges and other structures on the ocean floor (6).

Also known as
spiny seadragon.
Length: up to 49 cm (2)

Spiny pipehorse biology

Although little information is available regarding the specific biology of the spiny pipehorse, most pipehorses are known to feed on minute animals living on the ocean bottom or within the water, such as tiny crustaceans (3).

All pipehorses also have a remarkable and unique method of reproduction (3). During the breeding period, the tail of the male becomes brightly coloured and spongy (6). The female deposits eggs on to the underside of the male’s tail (3) (5), where they are fertilized. The male then holds the responsibility of incubating the precious brood until they hatch (3).


Spiny pipehorse range

The spiny pipehorse occurs in the southwest Pacific Ocean, around southern Australia and New Zealand (2).

See this species on Google Earth.


Spiny pipehorse habitat

Living in temperate marine waters (5), the spiny pipehorse occurs down to depths of 230 metres (2), where it is often found over muddy bottoms (5). Pipehorses are often found around corals, algae or sponges, holding onto these structures with their tails (6).


Spiny pipehorse status

Classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Data Deficient


Spiny pipehorse threats

Although pipehorses are not specifically targeted by fishermen, they are often captured as bycatch (6), which threatens their existence. Once caught, they may be dried and used in traditional Chinese medicine, in which they are a highly valuable ingredient, sold as curios, or traded live as aquarium fish (6).


Spiny pipehorse conservation

All species within the Syngnathidae family are protected in New South Wales, Australia, under the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994, meaning the collection, harvest or possession of any species of pipehorse in New South Wales is prohibited without a permit (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk


In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the 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, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
Capable of grasping.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2008)
  2. Fishbase (June, 2008)
  3. Carpenter, K.E. and Niem, V.H. (1999) FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes. 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.
  4. NSW Department of Primary Industries (June, 2008)
  5. Australian Museum (June, 2008)
  6. Martin-Smith, K.M., Lam, T.F. and Lee, S.K. (2003) Trade in pipehorses (Solegnathus spp.) for traditional medicine in Hong Kong. TRAFFIC Bulletin, 19(3): 139 - 148.

Image credit

Male spiny pipehorse with eggs  
Male spiny pipehorse with eggs

© Paddy Ryan

Paddy Ryan
Ryan Photographic
2802 East 132nd Circle
Tel: +01 (303) 457 9795


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