Short-tail Pipefish, Microphis brachyurus (Bleeker 1853)

Other Names: Short-tail River Pipefish, Short-tailed Pipefish

Short-tail Pipefish, Microphis brachyurus. Source: Gerald R. Allen. License: all rights reserved


Short-tail Pipefish are one of only a few pipefishes to live in freshwater streams and estuarine areas.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson, Microphis brachyurus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 11 Jun 2023,

Short-tail Pipefish, Microphis brachyurus (Bleeker 1853)

More Info

Max Length Australia



Microphis brachyurus brachyurus is widespread in the Indo-west-central Pacific, from southern India, Sri Lanka, southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea the Philippines, China, Japan, easwards to Tonga and the Society Islands; in Australia, known from coastal areas of Cape York to the Lizard Island area, Queensland; inhabits the lower reaches of freshwater streams, mangrove estuaries, tidal creeks and harbours in shallow waters, to a depth of 3 m.

Juveniles and subadults usually live in estuaries, while adults are often found upstream in freshwater areas. immature individuals are known from offshore marine waters and have been collected from drifting algae.


Short-tail Pipefish have long slender spotted or blotchy snouts.

Meristic counts: Dorsal fin 37–47; Anal fin 4; Pectoral fin 19–23; trunk rings 20–22; tail rings 21–24; subdorsal rings 2.0–0.25 + 6.5–8.75 = 7.5–9.5.

Head and body: Superior trunk and tail ridges discontinuous near vertical through rear of dorsal-fin base; lateral tail ridge ends on trunk, usually near vertical through dorsal-fin origin; inferior trunk and tail ridges discontinuous; ventral surface of trunk more or less V-shaped in adult females; head length 4.2–5.3 in SL; median dorsal snout ridge low, entire; snout long and slender, 1.5–1.8 in head length. Male brood pouch on underside of trunk.

Fins: Pectoral fin base does not protrude strongly laterally; dorsal fin origin on trunk, its base not elevated.


A relatively large species, reaching a maximum length of 22 cm.


Overall brownish-green, pale to white ventrally with white spots on snout and very small pale spots on sides. Juveniles may have 3–4 broad brownish bands on the tail.


Feeds on small invertebrates such as worms, crustaceans and zooplankton.


Reproduction: Breeding occurs in freshwater regions of rivers and streams. Ovoviviparous (gives birth to live young) with the eggs brooded by males in a brood pouch on the underside of the trunk, originating on 1st–3rd trunk ring; pouch plates are well developed and membranous egg compartments present; males may be brooding at 120 mm SL.

Eggs are deposited in 1–14 transverse rows in 1–2 layers; Large males can brood several hundred eggs; male brood pouch contains between 18–287 eggs in Japanese specimens, each measuring ~1.16 mm.

Larvae: Pelagic, marine; after being released from the male brood pouch, larvae grow and develop at sea, returning to freshwater areas to mature and breed. Newly released larvae have a well-developed finfold and indistinct body rings. Body rings are present at an early stage, and the anal fin is reduced; pelagic juveniles may have a greatly enlarged tail.


Sometimes collected for the aquarium trade.


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


A number of subspecies are recognised and Microphis brachyurus brachyurus is the subspecies found in Australian waters.

Similar Species

Short-tail Pipefish differs from M. manadensis, also found in Australian waters, in having a higher average snout depth in snout length ration than M. brachyurus subsp. (8.7-10.6 vs 6.7) and lower frequencies of total rings (39-44 versus 45-47).

Microphis brachyurus is most similar to the west Indian Ocean subspecies M. b millepunctatus, differing in having more trunk rings (20-22, usually 21, vs 19-22, usually 20) and tail rings (21-24 vs 20-22), and usually a greater number of pectoral-fin rays (20-21 versus 19-20). M. manadensis has a lower average snout depth in snout length ration than M. brachyurus ssp. (6.7 versus 8.7-10.6) and higher frequencies of total rings (45-47 versus 39-44).


Microphis is from the Greek mikros (small) and ophis (serpent).

Species Citation

Syngnathus brachyurus Bleeker 1853, Verh. Bat. Gen. 25: 16, Batavia, Panimbang, western Java; Priaman, western Sumatra,  Indonesia.


Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson

Short-tail Pipefish, Microphis brachyurus (Bleeker 1853)


Allen, G.R., S.H. Midgley & M. Allen. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum, Perth. 394 pp.

Bleeker, P. 1853. Bijdrage tot de kennis der Troskieuwige visschen van den Indischen Archipel. Verh. Bat. Gen. 25: 1-30.

Dawson, C.E. 1979. Review of the polytypic doryrhamphine pipefish Oostethus brachyurus (Bleeker). Bull. Mar. Sci. 29(4): 465-480.

Dawson, C.E. 1984. Revision of the genus Microphis Kaup (Pisces: Syngnathidae). Bull. Mar. Sci. 35(2): 117-181.

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

Fricke, R. 2004. Review of the pipefishes and seahorses (Teleostei: Syngnathidae) of New Caledonia, with descriptions of five new species. Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde. Serie A (Biologie). 66S: 1-66.

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

McDowall, R.M.> 1988. Diadromy in fishes: migrations between freshwater and marine environments. Croom Helm, London.

Minami, T & S. Kimura. 1988. Syngnathidae, pp 312–317. In Okiyama, M. (ed.) An atlas of the early stage fishes in Japan. Tokai University Press, Tokyo. 1157 pp. [in Japanese]

Myers, R.F. 1999. Micronesian reef fishes: a comprehensive guide to the coral reef fishes of Micronesia. 3rd revised and expanded edition. Coral Graphics, Barrigada, Guam. 330 pp.

Nakazato, Y. & Y. Fujita. 1986. Distribution, spawning, egg development and pre-flexion larvae of Microphis (Oostethus brachyurus brachyurus in Izu, Sagami and Bousou. Suisan Zousyoku 33: 230–239.

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

Paxton, J.R., J.E. Gates, D.F. Hoese & D.J. Bray. 2006. Syngnathidae (Pp. 810–846). In Beesley, P.L. & Wells, A. (Eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. Fishes. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing, Australia., 3 vols.

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.

Yoshino, T. & H. Yoshigou. 1998. First records of two freshwater pipefishes of the genus Microphis (Syngnathiformes:Syngnathidae) from Japan. Jpn. J. Ichthyol. 45: 201–204.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37282090

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map