Upside-down Pipefish, Heraldia nocturna Paxton 1975

Other Names: Eastern Upside-down Pipefish, Upside Down Pipefish, Upsidedown Pipefish, Western Upside-down Pipefish

An Upside-down Pipefish, Heraldia nocturna, in Nelson Bay, New South Wales. Source: Dave Harasti / License: All rights reserved


This secretive brown or yellowish-brown pipefish has the dorsal fin closer to tail tip than the head, a large spikey caudal fin, and raised spiny edges on the body rings. During the day, this nocturnal species usually shelters in crevices, caves and under ledges.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2017, Heraldia nocturna in Fishes of Australia, accessed 25 May 2024,

Upside-down Pipefish, Heraldia nocturna Paxton 1975

More Info


Endemic to temperate waters of southern and southeastern Australia, from about Seal Rocks, New South Wales, around the southern half of Australia to Geographe Bay, Western Australia, and to Port Davey on the west coast of Tasmania.

Upside-down Pipefish inhabit sheltered inshore reefs in harbours, bays and coves where they are usually seen beneath ledges, in holes, crevices and small caves at depths of 2-30 m.


Dorsal fin 21-27; Anal fin 4; Pectoral fin 18-22; Caudal fin 11; Trunk rings 16-19; Tail rings 14-16.

Body moderately elongated; trunk shallow, body posterior to dorsal fin much shorter than that before dorsal fin; head aligned with body; snout of moderate length (38-48% head length) and depth (23-44% snout length); opercle with complete longitudinal ridge and with supplemental ridges radiating above and below; posterior angles of rings somewhat elevated and produced to spine-like points; tail not prehensile.

Dorsal fin closer to tip of tail than to head, base of moderate length; anal fin small, below rear half of dorsal fin; caudal fin large, membranes broad and deeply incised between protruding tips of rays; pectoral fins small. New South Wales individuals have a larger caudal fin than those on the south coast.


To 10 cm SL.


Two distinct colour forms exist - a mostly dark brown to blackishform, sometimes with irregular tan or white blotches, and a mottled yellowish-brown form with brown markings and pale bands.


Upside-down Pipefish feed on small planktonic crustaceans such as mysids, which are sucked in through the long snout.


Males brood the eggs on the underside of the trunk, in a brood area extending from the 2nd to the 16th trunk ring. This area lacks pouch plates or membranous folds. Males may begin brooding at 63 mm SL.

The eggs are deposited in open membranous sockets formed from a firm gelatinous matrix on the ventral surface of the trunk rings. Males brood about 50-100 eggs.

At hatching, the larvae measure 5-6 mm TL and have fin folds but lack developed fin rays. They are bright yellowish-green with some scattered melanophores.


Of no interest to fisheries


Marine listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Listed as a protected species under New South Wales, Victorian, Tasmanian and South Australian Fisheries Management Acts.


Usually seen in pairs during the day swimming upside-down on the ceilings of caves or under rock ledges. The Upside-down Pipefish ventures out into the open at night. Upside-down Pipefish live in captivity for between 5 and 10 years, and readily reproduce, although larvae have not been raised.

Similar Species

This monotypic genus is most similar to other pipefish genera with an abdominal brood area and small spines on the posterior ends of the body ring ridges. Heraldia differs from Doryrhamphus and Dentirostrum with a lack of brood pouch flaps, from Dunckerocampus by the shorter snout and fewer tail rings and from Oostethus and Maroubra by the position of the dorsal fin mostly on the trunk.


The genus Heraldia was named in honour of Earl Stannard Herald who recognised the first specimens as a new genus and provided a brief description of the species before his death. The specific name nocturna refers to the nocturnal activity of the Upside-down Pipefish.

Species Citation

Heraldia nocturna Paxton 1975, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci. 40(15): 439-447, Watsons Bay, Sydney Harbour, New South Wales.


Bray, D.J. & Thompson, V.J. 2017


Australian Faunal Directory

Upside-down Pipefish, Heraldia nocturna Paxton 1975


Baker, J.L. 2008. Marine Species of Conservation Concern in South Australia: Volume 1 - Bony and Cartilaginous Fishes. Report for the South Australian Working Group for Marine Species of Conservation Concern.

Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). Ocean Springs (Mississippi): Gulf Coast Research Laboratory 230 pp. 293 figs pl. 1.

Dawson, C.E. 1994. Family Syngnathidae. pp. 440-475 figs 391-426 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs.

Edgar, G.J. 2008. Australian Marine Life: the plants and animals of temperate waters. Sydney : Reed New Holland 2nd edn, 624 pp. 

Hutchins, J.B. 1994. A survey of the nearshore reef fish fauna of Western Australia's west and south coasts — The Leeuwin Province. Records of the Western Australian Museum, Supplement 46: 1-66 figs 1-6

Jamieson, O. & Pollom, R. 2016. Heraldia nocturna (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T65368085A115424228. Downloaded on 04 February 2018.

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

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp. 

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

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

Kuiter, R.H. 2009. Seahorses and their relatives. Seaford, Australia : Aquatic Photographics 331 pp. 

Paxton, J.R. 1975. Heraldia nocturna, a new genus and species of pipefish (family Syngnathidae) from eastern Australia with comments on Maroubra perserrata Whitley. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 40(15): 439-447 figs 1-2

Paxton, J.R., Gates, J.E., Hoese, D.F. & Bray, D.J. 2006. Syngnathidae. pp. 810-846 in Beesley, P.L. & Wells, A. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35 Australia : ABRS & CSIRO Publishing Parts 1-3 2178 pp.

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.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37282071

Biology:Males brood eggs

Conservation:EPBC Act Marine listed; IUCN Least Concern

Depth:2-30 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:10 cm SL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map