Messmate Pipefish, Corythoichthys intestinalis (Ramsay 1881)

Other Names: Australian Messmate Pipefish, Banded Pipefish, Dragon Pipefish, Messmate Pipe-fish, Waite's Pipe-fish

Messmate Pipefish have indistinct dark body bands, with dark wavy or reticulated stripes on the sides. They live on shallow coastal reefs and coral reef lagoons, and form monogamous breeding pairs.

Cite this page as:
Thompson, Vanessa J. & Dianne J. Bray, Corythoichthys intestinalis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 02 Dec 2023,

Messmate Pipefish, Corythoichthys intestinalis (Ramsay 1881)

More Info


Tropical Western Central Pacific, known from Indonesia, northern Australia, the Philippines to Samoa, and Micronesia; inhabits sheltered sponge and coral reefs in shallow lagoons and harbours at 3-12 m.


Meristics: D 26-32; P 14-18; Trunk rings 15-17; Tail rings 31-37.

Head and body: Head length 8.0 in SL, snout length in HL 1.8-2.4; body depth in HL 2.4-4.9. Pre-nuchal and nuchal ridges smooth; median snout ridge usually with slight dorsal emargination; eye prominent.

Fins: Dorsal fin origin usually at or before the anterior margin of the first tail ring; dorsal fin base in HL 1.0-1.7.


Reaches 180 mm TL


Colour pattern variable; body brownish-yellow, paler ventrally; dorsum and sides of head striped or reticulate; trunk and tail with faint bands mixed with black-brown, evenly spaced reticulations.


Feed mainly on swarming planktonic copepods, but also on cumaceans, amphipods, isopods, tanaids, barnacle larvae and ostracods.


The sexes are separate and fertilisation is external. Males and females form monogamous pairs and spawn from early Spring to early Autumn. Males brood the developing eggs in a pouch under the tail. The eggs are deposited in 2-17 transverse rows within a gelatinous matrix, and the pouch protects the dorsal surface and side of the egg mass, leaving the ventral surface exposed. Males begin brooding at 65-70 mm TL.

The pelagic larvae are morphologically similar to the adults. They have spinous ridges, and the dorsal and ventral finfolds often persist on the tail.


The Messmate Pipefish is one of the most common pipefishes in the aquarium trade.


Australian government Legislation: Marine listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. EPBC Act.


Messmate Pipefish are strongly site attached but do not defend a territory. Males occupy a smaller home range than females and typically do not leave their home coral patch. Females may move 20 m in a day between patches.

Similar Species

C. intestinalis is similar to C. flavofasciatus but has a longer head, differences in other measurements including higher pectoral fin ray counts and distinctly different colour patterns. C. flavofasciatus have spotted dorsal fins and males characteristically have a black blotch on venter of anal ring but C. intestinalis do not. C. haematopterus is also similar but has trunk ring counts of 17 versus 16 in C. intestinalis. Differences also exist in markings on venter of anterior trunk rings and on posterior tail rings.


Corythoichthys is from the Greek, korys, korythos for helmet and ichtys meaning fish.

Species Citation

Syngnatus intestinalis Ramsay 1881, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. (1)5(4): 494, Duke of York Island, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands.


Thompson, Vanessa J. & Dianne J. Bray

Messmate Pipefish, Corythoichthys intestinalis (Ramsay 1881)


Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine fishes of tropical Australia and south-east Asia. Western Australian Museum, Perth. 292 pp.

Dawson, C.E. 1977. Review of the Pipefish genus Corythoichthys with description of three new species. Copeia 1977(2): 295-338

Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 230 pp.

Gronell, A.M. 1984. Courtship, spawning and social organisation of the pipefish Corythoichthys intestinalis (Pisces : Syngnathidae) with notes on two congeneric species. Zeitshrift für Tierpsychologie 65: 1-24.

Hoese DF, Bray DJ, Paxton JR & Allen GR (2006). Fishes. In Beesley PL & Wells A (eds) Zoological catalogue of Australia. Volume 35 ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia 2178pp.

Kuiter, R.H. (2000). Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives. Chorleywood, UK: TMC Publishing. 240pp.

Michael, S.W. (1998). Reef Fishes Volume 1. A Guide to Their Identification, Behaviour and Captive Care. Microcosm Ltd. Shellbourne, Vermont 624 pp.

Paulus, T. (1999) Family Syngnathidae pp 2264-2276 In Carpenter K.E. & Niem V.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide For Fisheries Purposes. FAO Vol. 4 pp 2069-2790.

Pogonoski, J.J., D.A. Pollard & J.R. Paxton. 2002. Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes, Environment Australia, Canberra. 375 pp.

Ramsay, E.P. 1881. Description of a parasitic Syngnathus. Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. (1)5(4): 494-495.

Whiteman, E.A. & I.M. Côté. 2004. Monogamy in marine fishes. Biol. Rev. 79: 351-375.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37282049

Biology:Male brood pouch

Depth:3-12 m

Habitat:Coral reefs

Max Size:18 cm TL

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map