Common name: Ghost pipefishes


Ghostpipefishes, like their seahorse and pipefish relative, are also covered in bony armour. They are masters of camouflage, mimicing pieces of algae, floating debris, crinoid arms or gorgonian corals. They often hover motionless in a head-down position amongst the seaweeds and sessile invertebrates they mimic. Unlike their seahorse and pipefish relatives, female ghostpipefish brood their developing young in a special pouch formed between their large pelvic fins and the abdomen.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Ghost pipefishes, SOLENOSTOMIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 26 May 2024,

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Family Taxonomy

This very small family comprises a single genus, Solenostomus and 4 recognised species, all found in Australian waters. There is considerable variation within the four species.

Family Distribution

Ghost pipefishes are widespread throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific. They live amongst algae, seagrasses and sessile invertebrates in a variety of habitats ranging from coral reefs to muddy, sandy, seagrass or marine algal substrates from near the surface to 95m.

Family Description

Meristic features: Dorsal fin V, 16-22; Anal fin 17-22; Pectoral fin 22-28; Pelvic fin I, 6; Caudal fin 15-17; Vertebrae 32-34. 

Body short, compressed, snout long, tubular, mouth small at snout tip; gill openings moderately large, circumorbital bones absent. 

Fins high and large; first dorsal fin with long, weak spines, second dorsal fin mounted on a base; pelvic fins large, opposite first dorsal fin, united to form brood pouch in females. 

Body covered in large segmented ridged, stellate dermal plates which form a bony armour ornamented with filamentous appendages.

Family Size

Reach a total length of about 17cm.

Family Colour

Ghostpipefishes are amazingly camouflaged in both colour and body form.

Family Feeding

Feed by sucking very small invertebrates and zooplankton such as mysids and benthic crustaceans in through their tubular snouts. They may also feed on invertebrates that live on gorgonian corals or crinoids.

Family Reproduction

The sexes are separate and fertilisation is external. Males and females often live in pairs and at least one species is thought to form monogamous pairs. Unlike seahorses and their relatives, female ghost pipefishes brood their eggs externally in a brood pouch or marsupium, formed from the united pelvic fins. Larval stages are known for two species. At hatching, the larvae are well-developed and about 3 mm in length. They are elongate, compressed, with pigmented eyes and have a fully-formed mouth, a long straight gut, and well-developed body spination. The juveniles of at least one species are reportedly pelagic until they settle out to breed.

Family Commercial

Ghost pipefishes are occasionally taken as bycatch in bottom trawls, and are keenly sought for sale in the aquarium industry. They are protected in many countries and are very difficult to keep in captivity.

Family Conservation

Australian Government Legislation: All species are Marine Listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiverity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

State Government Legislation: Species found in New South Wales are protected under the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994.

Family Remarks

Although often found in pairs, ghost pipefishes sometimes live in groups amongst gorgonian branches, floating weeds, coralline algae or crinoids. Species may be short lived, perhaps even having an annual life-cycle.


Dianne J. Bray


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