The pipefish – Syngnathinae, by their scientific name – are small relatives of seahorses and seadragons that are known for their distinctive elongated appearance, unusual mating and parental practices, and unique feeding patterns. While these fish don’t eat anything too unusual, their methods of capturing and ingesting food are unrivaled by any other marine creature. Also, this is a family of fish where females tend to dominate, while males take a more active role in taking care of their young.
There are a few unique appearance traits associated with pipefish, Syngnathinae being a species that has a smaller mouth and straighter body than a common seahorse. Apart from these traits, they mostly look like “straightened out” seahorses. Their modified skeletons form a heavily armored plating that will make their predators think twice before attacking. Moreover, the snout looks more like an elongated tube, while the mouth is narrow and small, opening upwards and featuring a unique feeding system that requires no teeth.
There is a unique feeding method attributed to pipefish. The pipefish create a type of vacuum in their mouth that facilitates small crustaceans, shrimp and copepods to be sucked inside. Large pipefish may also feed on smaller fish, while freshwater varieties can adapt to eating insects and worms as well. Most pipefish, however, thrive in tropical and subtropical regions and there are only a few distinct species that are fully adapted to freshwater areas. Most are found in the open ocean at depths of about 1,300 feet.
As in the case of their seahorse relatives, pipefish males are responsible for much of the work in caring for their young. The males provide the young pipefish with vital oxygen and nourishment through a placenta-like connection. The new pipefish becomes fully independent upon hatching, with little or no yolk sack. Depending on the species, young pipefish may be less developed or fully developed versions of their parents ready to tackle the dangers of the world outside. Pertaining to the mating process, a strange role reversal strays from the normal pattern presented by seahorses. As in the case of pipefish, Syngnathinae females resort to colorful displays and complex courtship methods in order to attract males prior to mating – a unique evolutionary behavioral trait.