A relatively uncommon species, the ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus) is a member of a small group of Indo-Pacific fishes belonging to the Solenostomidae family (3) (4), which are relatives of the true pipefish and seahorses (Syngnathidae) (4) (5).
An unusual-looking fish with an elongated body (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7), the ghost pipefish has a long head which makes up an impressive 44 percent of its total length (6). This species is named for its long, tubular snout (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7), with the genus name, Solenostomus, being derived from the Greek words solen, meaning ‘tube-like’, and stoma, meaning ‘mouth’ (2) (7).
Interestingly, ghost pipefish do not have scales, but are instead encased in a series of segmented, bony plates (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8). This species has a rather rounded or fan-like tail fin (2) (7), and two widely separated dorsal fins, with the front one comprising five feeble spines (2) (3) (6) (7). The female ghost pipefish is bigger and less slender than the male (7) (9), and also has an enlarged, modified pelvic fin which forms a brood pouch for fertilised eggs (2) (3) (5) (7) (9).
In terms of colouration, the ghost pipefish is a highly variable species (2) (3) (4) (7), ranging from brown to pink or yellow (2) (3) (5) (10) or even green (4) (5) (7). It has been noted that individuals found in sea grass beds tend to be greenish, more closely resembling sea grass leaves, whereas those occurring on deeper reefs tend to be more brownish-red (7).
The ghost pipefish is usually marked with a scattering of small black and white spots (2) (3) (4) (5) (10), and its fins are often mottled (7). The second part of its scientific name, cyanopterus, comes from the Greek words kyan and pteron, meaning ‘blue spot’ (7), and refers to the two large, dark spots visible on the dorsal fin (2) (3) (7) (10). With its specialised body shape and colouration, the ghost pipefish is a master of camouflage, making it hard to spot as it blends in effectively with seaweed and other bits of floating vegetation (4) (5) (7) (8).
- Also known as
- bluefinned ghost pipefish, blue-finned ghost pipefish, green ghost pipefish, Racek’s ghost pipefish, robust ghost pipefish, robust ghostpipefish, rough-snout ghostpipfish, squaretail ghostpipefish.
- Solenichthys paegnius, Solenichthys raceki, Solenostoma cyanopterus, Solenostomatichthys bleekeri, Solenostomus bleekeri, Solenostomus bleekerii, Solenostomus paeginus, Solenostomus paegnius.
- Length: 17 cm (2) (3)
Ghost pipefish biology
Frequently seen in pairs (2) (3) (4) (7), the ghost pipefish often lets itself be carried by the surf, floating around in a characteristic head-down position, mimicking a piece of dead seaweed to avoid detection (3) (4) (7) (8) (9).
An ambush predator (7), the ghost pipefish drifts over the seabed, searching for the small invertebrates upon which it feeds (4) (5) (6) (7) and sucking prey up using its long, tube-like snout (5) (7). Although crustaceans form the bulk of the ghost pipefish’s diet (2) (6) (7), this species is also known to eat fish larvae (2). Interestingly, ghost pipefish are able to move their eyes either simultaneously or separately, enabling them to effectively scan the ocean floor for prey (3).
The ghost pipefish is a monogamous species (2), and females are usually accompanied by a smaller male (9). Whereas in true pipefishes and seahorses it is the male that incubates the eggs, in the ghost pipefish it is the female that performs this role. The female has enlarged and modified pelvic fins which form a brood pouch, in which the eggs are incubated (2) (5) (6) (7). Approximately 350 fertilised eggs can be carried by each female (9), and these develop while attached to specialised skin cells (7). When they hatch, the well-developed larvae are about three millimetres in length with coloured eyes and a fully formed mouth, and the body is already covered in small protrusions (7).
Ghost pipefish range
A tropical fish (2) (8), the ghost pipefish is found throughout the Indo-Pacific region (2) (3) (4) (5) (8) (9). It occurs from the Red Sea (2) (7) (9) and East Africa to India, southern Japan, and south to Fiji and Australia (1) (2) (3) (7). In Australian waters, the ghost pipefish is known from the Shark Bay region of Western Australia, around the tropical north of the country and southwards as far as Sydney Harbour, New South Wales (7).
Species with a similar range
Ghost pipefish habitat
A marine species (2), the ghost pipefish can either be found floating around in the open ocean (2) (9), or associated with inshore and offshore reefs (2) (4) and deep, clear estuaries (7). The ghost pipefish tends to prefer coastal reefs with seaweed beds, sea grass flats, areas of detritus or soft corals (2) (3) (5) (8) (9).
This species usually occurs at depths of between 3 and 25 metres (2) (8).
Species found in a similar habitat
Ghost pipefish status
The ghost pipefish has yet to be classified on the IUCN Red List.
Ghost pipefish threats
There are no known major threats to the ghost pipefish. This unusual species is of no interest to fisheries (2) (7), and is rarely collected for the aquarium trade as it is difficult to keep in captivity (7).
Ghost pipefish conservation
At present, there are no known conservation measures in place specifically for the ghost pipefish. However, this species is protected in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and is also listed as ‘protected’ under the New South Wales Fisheries Management Act 1994 (7).
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- 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.
- Litter formed from fragments of dead material.
- 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.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- Pelvic fins
- In fish, the pair of fins found on the underside of the body.
Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (December, 2012)
Fishbase - Ghost pipefish (December, 2012)
Smith, J.L.B., Smith, M.M. and Heemstra, P.C. (2003) Smiths’ Sea Fishes. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
King, D. and Fraser, V. (2002) More Reef Fishes & Nudibranchs: East and South Coast of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. and Steene, R.C. (1997) Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
Carpenter, K.E. (2002) Solenostomidae. 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:
Fishes of Australia - Solenostomus cyanopterus (December, 2012)
Ferrari, A., Ferrari, A. and Eklund, L.M. (2002) Reef Life: A Firefly Guide. Firefly Books, Ontario.
Taquet, M. and Diringer, A. (2012) Poissons de l’Océan Indien et de la Mer Rouge. Deuxième Edition. Editions Quae, Versailles.
Weber, M.C.W. and de Beaufort, L.F. (1929) The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Brill Archive, Holland.