Spiny Pipehorse, Solegnathus spinosissimus Günther 1870

Other Names: Australian Spiny Pipehorse, Banded Pipefish, Spiny Sea Dragon, Spiny Seadragon

A male Spiny Pipehorse, Solegnathus spinosissimus, carrying eggs under his tail in Milford Sound, New Zealand - depth 14 metres. Source: Paddy Ryan / http://www.ryanphotographic.com/. License: All rights reserved


A large pink, reddish or orange pipehorse, with about 7 darker bars, blotches or pairs of spots along the back, many narrow yellow bars along the side continuing onto the tail as blotches or spots, and a reddish-brown blotch surrounding the anus. Individuals are sometimes washed ashore during storms.

A Spiny Pipehorse on The Peak, off Sydney - depth 108 m.

Images of the Spiny Pipehorse on ARKive

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2022, Solegnathus spinosissimus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 14 Jun 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1472

Spiny Pipehorse, Solegnathus spinosissimus Günther 1870

More Info


Off Caloundra, southern Queensland, to south of Cape Otway, Victoria, including around Tasmania. Elsewhere the species occurs in New Zealand. 

Inhabits muddy, silty, shelly and rubble substrates, and rocky reefs, and may be washed ashore during storms. In the southern part of their range, Spiny pipehorses are found in relatively shallow waters, and are occasionally seen by divers in the Derwent Estuary (Tasmania).


Dorsal fin 34-42; Pectoral fin 23-26; trunk rings 24-27; tail rings 51-59; total rings 76-84; total subdorsal rings 8.75-11.75.

Superior trunk ridge not confluent with superior tail ridge, opercular membrane with bony platelets on sides and ventral surface; body surfaces spinulose; snout shallow, depth more than 5.5 in snout length; dorsal surface of trunk and anterior part of tail flat to a little convex; body surfaces spinulose, spines very dense in smaller specimens.


This is the largest member of the family family Synganthidae in Australia, attaining a maximum length of 49 cm.


Overall pink, red or orange with about 7 darker bars, blotches or bilateral pairs of spots dorsally on the trunk; sides of trunk with numerous narrow, yellow, vertical bars continuing onto the tail as blotches or spots; ventral midline bright red; reddish brown blotch around the anus.


Individuals use their prehensile tail to cling to macroalgae or sessile invertebrates, and feed on planktonic invertebrates drifting by in the currents.


Like all members of the family Syngnathidae, Spiny Pipehorse males incubate the eggs. Solegnathus species lack a brood pouch, and females deposit their eggs onto a specialised brood area under the tail of the male pipehorse. The brood area becomes spongy and highly vascularised during the breeding season and the eggs become embedded in this vascularised tissue.
Males just over 20cm in length may be brooding eggs, although most do not brood until they are at least 30cm. The eggs are incubated by the male until they hatch, and newly hatched Spiny Pipehorses are reported to be benthic and lack a pelagic life stage. In specimens examined, the brood size ranged between about 60 and 200 eggs.


Taken as incidental bycatch in dredges, trawls, seines and in crayfish pots. Individuals taken as bycatch in Australia’s Southeast Trawl Fishery (SEFT) may be dried and sold to the Traditional Medicine Industry (TCM) in Australia and possibly overseas (subject to rules and regulations set down by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), the EPBC Act and the Commonwealth Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982.

Dried Solegnathus specimens are used in the preparation of medicines and as aphrodisiacs in the Chinese Traditional Medicine Industry (TCM). Pipehorses are thought to be of high medicinal value in TCM, being similar in medicinal value to seahorses.


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Data Defficient on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.

Marine listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Solegnathus spinosissimus is subject to the export controls of the Commonwealth Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982

Listed as protected under the New South Wales, Victorian and Tasmanian Fisheries Management Acts.


Although Kuiter (2009) considered New Zealand records of this species to represent a different species, Solegnathus naso Whitley 1941, Stewart (2015) suggested additional information was needed and retained the name S. spinosissimus for the New Zealand population.

Similar Species

Solegnathus spinosissimus differs from all other members of the genus Solegnathus except S. robustus, in having lateral and ventral platelets on the opercular membrane, a truncate spine under the pectoral fin, ridged scutella and spinulose body surfaces. The species differs from S. robustus in having a more slender snout (snout depth in snout length 5.6-10.1 vs 3.7-4.5). S. spinosissimus also lacks short supplemental ridges on the body surface, lacks a strongly convex dorsal surface, and the anterior part of the tail is not oval in cross-section, characters with distinguish S. robustus.


The specific name spinosissimus is from the Latin spinosus (= spiny, thorny) and issima (= very), in reference to the entire body being “covered with small but very distinct spines”.

Species Citation

Solenognathus spinosissimus Günther 1870 Cat. Fish. Brit. Mus. 8: 195. Type locality: Tasmania.


Bray, D.J. 2022


Atlas of Living Australia

Spiny Pipehorse, Solegnathus spinosissimus Günther 1870


Dawson, C.E. 1982. Synopsis of the Indo-Pacific genus Solegnathus (Pisces: Syngnathidae). Japanese Journal of Ichthyology 29(2): 139-160.

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

Edgar, G.J. 1997. Australian Marine Life. Reed, Kew, Victoria, Australia, 544pp.

Günther, A.  1870. Catalogue of the fishes in the British Museum. 8: i-xxv + 1-549 See ref at BHL

Günther, A. 1880. Report on the shore fishes procured during the voyage of H.M.S Challenger, in the years 1872–1876. Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger 1873–1876, Zoology 1(6): 1-82 pls 1-32 (described as Solegnathus fasciatus, type locality off Twofold Bay, NSW, 120 fathoms)

Hutchins, J.B. & Swainston, R. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete field guide for anglers and divers. Perth : Swainston Publishing 180 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp. 

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

Kuiter, R.H. 2008. Family Syngnathidae, pp. 448-479 in Gomon, M.F., D.J. Bray & R.H. Kuiter. (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. New Holland Press & Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, 928 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 2009. Seahorses and their relatives. Seaford, Australia : Aquatic Photographics, pp. 1–333.

Last, P.R., Scott, E.O.G. & Talbot, F.H. 1983. Fishes of Tasmania. Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority, Hobart. 563 pp.

Martin-Smith, K.M., Lam, T.F. & Lee, S.K. 2003. Trade in pipehorses Solegnathus spp. for traditional medicine in Hong Kong. TRAFFIC Bulletin 19(3): 139-148.

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Pollom, R. 2017. Solegnathus spinosissimus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T20318A67623085. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T20318A67623085.en. Accessed on 21 December 2022.

Scott, E.O.G. 1963. Observations on some Tasmanian fishes: Part XI. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 97:1-31.

Scott, E.O.G. 1979. Observations on some Tasmanian fishes: Part XXV. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania 113: 99-148.

Stewart, A.L. 2015. Families Syngnathidae, Aulostomidae, Fistulariidae, Macroramphosidae. pp. 1050-1072 in Roberts, C.D., Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 3 pp. 577-1152.

Vincent, A.C.J. 1995. Trade in seahorses for traditional Chinese medicines, aquarium fishes and curios. TRAFFIC Bulletin 15(3):125-128.

Vincent, A.C.J. 1996. The International Trade in Seahorses. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37282029

Behaviour:2-250 m

Biology:Males brood the eggs

Conservation:IUCN Data Deficient

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:49 cm TL

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CAAB distribution map