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Is a Pipefish a Vertebrate? The Complete Guide and Facts

So, Is A Pipefish A Vertebrate?

The short answer is, Yes, Pipefish are vertebrates. All animals are classified as either vertebrates or invertebrates.

What really makes the distinction between these two main classes is that the former class members have a spine, and generally an internal system of a skeleton as well as a spinal cord, which is connected to a brain, no matter if this is a tiny brain or a much bigger one. 

What is a Pipefish?

Pipefish, although they have some characteristics that are similar to those of seahorses, are members of a subfamily of small-sized fish. 

Yet, pipefish and seahorses are classified under the same family, the Sygnathidae. They are endowed with a very peculiar body design, which makes them one of the species every aquarist would like to have as pets.

In the following paragraphs, I am going to give you a detailed description of everything around these fish, from what they need from you while they adorn your home fish tank.

What Does A Pipefish Look Like?

The Sygnathus genus includes over 30 species, which may have minor morphological differences among them. However, they have many more common characteristics in terms of appearance.

As the genus common name, pipefish, indicates, they are all eel-like creatures with a slender, tubular body. Their length varies considerably, with adult individuals ranging from 1 to 26 inches, depending on the species, according to ​britannica

Their head, which is very similar to the head of the seahorse, ends to a tubular snout with a small mouth at terminal position, i.e. at the edge of the snout. This mouth is very small, without any teeth and it works as a pump that constantly sucks in food.

They don’t have scales, but instead they have bodies protected by an armor-like coating. These armor rings are bony in nature and they constitute the natural defense of the pipefish. They have only one dorsal fin and most times they are equipped with a tiny tail fin.

Their body colors and designs vary greatly, and they offer them effective camouflage among the weeds and other sea plants. Like seahorses, they are not very good swimmers, which is the result of having only one dorsal fin.

Some species have body colors that change according to the environment for better camouflaging, according to fishkeepingworld.

Where Can You Typically Find Them?

Most pipefish species live in tropical and subtropical sea waters or brackish water. There are very few species that are fresh water dwellers. In the wild, they prefer natural environments that are rich in features suitable to be used as a shelter or for camouflage.

Such places are coral reefs, lagoons, and generally spots with weeds, sea-grasses, or eel-grass.

Such environments are also the ideal place for their feeding as they are rich in small crustaceans, plankton or other small living organisms. I am going to give more information though about their eating habits below.

Since, they depend on their vision to find their prey, they cannot survive in environments that are dark. So, they are expected to be found in coastal regions, or generally in relatively shallow waters, where sunlight can pass through.

Their slender bodies allow them to squeeze in the crevices of their natural habitat, where they suck in all the delicacies mentioned above using their small mouths. There are, however, certain pipefish species that have adapted to living in the open ocean and can be located at waters even deeper than 1000 feet, according to fusedjaw.

What Are Their Tank Requirements?

Just based on the information given so far, most of the tank requirements needed for the proper keeping of pipefish should be easy to guess. Starting from the most obvious, we are talking about saltwater tanks.

The minimum size of your tank should be 30 gallons. Since the pipefish enjoy hiding and camouflaging, as well as squeezing into crevices and holes or probing with their long snouts for food, your tank should be equipped with mature reefs, rocks as well as grasses and seaweeds, caves and crevices. Camouflaging is part of the daily routine of these fish.

Therefore, multi-colored tank furnishing is a must. The tank could ideally be equipped with overhangs that will provide sheltering spots for the pipefish.

As already mentioned, pipefish live in the wild in tropical or subtropical seas, hence you need to adjust the tank’s water temperature between 72 and 77 oF. The pH of the water should be 8.1-8.4, or in other words, pipefish prefer alkaline water.

The carbonate hardness of the water is connected to pH, according to seneye, and care should be taken to keep it at high levels (8-12 dKH). If carbonate hardness falls to very low levels, pH will fluctuate, and you are going to experience pH crashes. Good lighting is also a must.

Are they easy to care for?

There is a general belief that despite their very appealing appearance and their playfulness, which make them ideal dwellers of our home tanks, they are very difficult to keep and that only very experienced aquarists are successful at offering pipefish a happy and comfortable life under captivity. To a certain degree this is true.

However, if you are a novice and afraid that you are not going to be a good pipefish-keeper, you should know that in most cases, their bad statistics in terms of survival in home tanks is related to traumas they have experienced during their collection and transportation from the wild to pet shops and aquariums in general.

There are a few standard things you could do and hope that the result will be the one you are wishing for. First of all, you must do a thorough examination of the individual you are going to buy from the shop. This must be free of apparent marks of injuries or infections.

Pay special attention to the breathing rate of the pipefish in the pet shop’s tank. Fast breathing is an indication of stress. Once inside your tank, make sure to follow all advice just given on tank requirements and remember that you can keep your pipefish either with other pipefish or with seahorses.

What Do Pipefish Eat?

As you have already learned, pipefish need adequate light conditions because they are based on their vision to spot their prey. Also, one of the reasons you have to keep them either separately or with seahorses only is because they cannot compete successfully for their food. Basically, they eat other sea animals.

They are carnivores and they have a liking for small crustaceans and small shrimps as well as other living small organisms or plankton. In terms of feeding habits, due to their short digestive tract, they need to eat small amounts but very frequently. Either in the wild or in an aquarium, pipefish feed on small organisms living in a so-called live rock. This is why your tank needs to be equipped with a mature reef.

Especially during the first hours or days in their new home, your home tank, you must be prepared for their period they get accustomed, with a variety of live food, letting your new fish make their final choices at their own pace.

Live food can always be supplemented with frozen food, but you should keep in mind that pipefish have a very small mouth and your frozen food must accordingly be in small-sized pieces.

What Are The Most Common Pipefish Species?

As already stated above, the Sygnathus genus includes over 30 species of Pipefish. If we take into consideration all the genera of Pipefish, we are talking about over 200 species.

Most commonly found in hobbyists’ aquariums are the Flagtail pipefish and the Dragonface pipefish.

Within the species of the Flagtail pipefish there are two subspecies, Dunckerocampus spp. and Doryramphus spp.

The Dragonface species includes 12 subspecies, with three being the most commonly found in home tanks: The Network Pipefish, the Messmate Pipefish and the Scribbled Pipefish.

Among the flagtail pipefish one can find perhaps the most resistant and with the best survival records in home aquariums (Bluestripe Pipefish, Banded Pipefish, Janss Pipefish, Yellow Banded Pipefish and Multibanded Pipefish). 

Flagtail pipefish, whose tails as their name reveals, are adorned with multiple, beautiful colors and are relatively easy to keep in an aquarium. They can also thrive in reef aquariums. In terms of their adaptability to captivity, they seem to be the easiest to have them on a frozen food diet. The problem American aquarists may face is that while they are readily available in the Australian and European market, they are very hard to find in the USA.

Can You Mix Them With Other Fish?

As already noted, it is advisable not to keep them with other fish, such as Batfish, etc. They could be kept in pairs or groups of the same species or with seahorses. There are aquarists who manage to keep them with other fish, but they are very experienced and know what non-aggressive fish species to select as co-inhabitants of their pipefish.

Their tanks also might be quite large, allowing at least 20 gallons of space for each single pipefish, regardless of the number of the rest of fish inside the tank.

As you have already learned, pipefish are not good swimmers and thus cannot compete effectively for food when other faster species are present in the same tank.

Keeping pipefish in groups is also something that demands some experience. Depending on the species or subspecies, and the aggressiveness they usually exhibit, some can be kept in pairs or groups, while some others are better to keep as single individuals.

Can You Breed Pipefish?

As is the case with seahorses, the male gender is the one that undertakes parental care. During mating, the male and female individuals will get involved in a beautifully choreographed dance, where they both will display their skills.

What is different during the mating rituals, compared to seahorses, is that it is usually the female that gives her fight to attract the male showing off with changes in her skin color.

The female deposits the eggs in a special bag the male possesses for carrying them. From the moment they hatch, they behave as independent individuals, and in some cases, during these initial moments of their life, the young ones are mistaken for food by their parents.

In some species of pipefish, the newborns are in a larval stage in the beginning. Although it is considered extremely hard to breed pipefish under captivity, some expert fish-keepers do it successfully.

Is There Any Specific Water Conditions Required?

In addition to the specific water conditions I addressed earllier in this article, the prospective pipefish keeper should be aware that ammonia and nitrite levels of the tank water should be kept at zero value, otherwise their fish will perish.

Once the fish have been introduced into the tank, which is maintained at a certain temperature, between the temperature range given above, care should be taken that the temperature is kept constant.

Even relatively small temperature fluctuations could mean shock for the fish. Related to the fact that pipefish are not good swimmers, the ideal tank water should have a low to medium water flow.

As is the case with most, if not all fish kept in tanks, regular cleaning of the tank, maintenance of all its systems. Also, keeping of excellent filtration conditions are a prerequisite for the survival and a lengthy happy aquarium life for these fish, according to petcha.


Whether an experienced aquarist or a novice, I hope that you have been enlightened after reading this article, in which I have tried to give a complete and thorough review on the Pipefish.

Apart from being an educating contribution, I tried to make it also an enjoyable reading. I hope I was successful at offering you a fun to read article.

Your comments and remarks are most welcome, and I would be more than happy to read them.

Feel free to share this article with other people you know, who are into the hobby of fish-keeping and to other people, too, because they might get intrigued and consider becoming home aquarists. 


Hey, thanks for passing by, welcome to the blog for Pet Fish fans. This is me, Wayne, and my son Theo. I started this journey after we bought him hist first Fish Tank of fish. Follow my site for my research and info on Pet Fish.