Janss' pipefish (Doryrhamphus janssi)

Also known as: cleaner pipefish, Janss pipefish, Janss’s pipefish
Synonyms: Dentirostrum janssi, Doryramphus janssi
GenusDoryrhamphus (1)
SizeTotal length: up to 14 cm (2) (3)
Top facts

Janss’ pipefish is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Also known as the cleaner pipefish, Janss’ pipefish (Doryrhamphus janssi) is a long, slender, colourful fish which is easily recognised by its bright orange middle and bluish head and tail regions. Its fan-like tail fin is also distinctive, being black with white edges and a white spot in the centre (3) (4).

Like other members of the Syngnathidae family (pipefish and seahorses), Janss’ pipefish has an unusual body form, being encased in armoured, bony rings and having a tiny mouth at the end of a long, tubular snout (2) (3) (5) (6). Its gill openings are very small, consisting of a hole in a membrane above the bony gill covering, or operculum. Janss’ pipefish has a relatively long dorsal fin, but its anal fin is very small and it lacks pelvic fins entirely (2) (3) (4) (5) (6).

Janss’ pipefish has a longer, more slender snout than most other Doryrhamphus species, and can also be distinguished from its relatives by its higher number of tail rings. The name of this genus, Doryrhamphus, comes from Greek words meaning ‘lance’ and ‘bill’ or ‘beak’, referring to the long, thin snout of these species (3).

Pipefish are closely related to seahorses, but differ in having a straight head and body rather than the head being at a 90 degree angle to the body. Pipefish also lack a prehensile tail (3).

Janss’ pipefish occurs in the western Pacific Ocean, from the Gulf of Thailand and the Philippines south to the Solomon Islands and northern Australia (1) (2) (3) (4). It has also been recorded in the eastern Indian Ocean, around Christmas Island and in the Andaman Sea (1).

A marine species, Janss’ pipefish inhabits tidal pools and sheltered inner reefs, where it is usually found in caves and crevices with sponges, as well as below large plate corals (1) (2) (3). This fish can be found at depths of up to 35 metres (2) (3).

Janss’ pipefish uses rapid waving of its dorsal and pectoral fins to swim (6), and is often seen swimming upside down (3). This species typically occurs in pairs, and each pair actively maintains a ‘cleaning station’ at the entrance to a cave or crevice, where the male and female work together to pick parasites off visiting fish (1) (2) (3). Like other members of the Syngnathidae family, Janss’ pipefish has no teeth (5) (6), instead sucking prey into its tubular snout using a pipette-like action (2) (3) (6).

Syngnathid species have an unusual breeding strategy in which the male rather than the female becomes pregnant. The female Janss’ pipefish lays its eggs onto a specialised, partly exposed ‘brood pouch’ on the underside of the male’s body, where the eggs are fertilised and are incubated by the male until they hatch (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The male Janss’ pipefish is able to start brooding eggs once it reaches a total length of about 8 centimetres (3), and like other Doryrhamphus species it is likely to carry about 80 to 150 eggs at a time (1).

The eggs of Janss’ pipefish have not yet been described, but as in most other syngnathids they are likely to be spherical. The larvae of this species resemble miniature versions of the adults. Little other information is available on the breeding behaviour of Janss’ pipefish, but many other syngnathid species are known to form monogamous pair bonds, and some pairs even perform daily greeting rituals during the breeding season (3).

Janss’ pipefish is likely to be vulnerable to a range of predators, such as sharks, rays, other fish, sea birds, turtles and marine mammals (3).

Janss’ pipefish has a widespread distribution and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction, although little is known about its population size or population trends. Like many pipefish and seahorses, Janss’ pipefish is sometimes harvested for the aquarium trade, although it is not known whether it is targeted directly or taken accidentally as bycatch. Fortunately, this trade does not appear to be a major threat to this species at present (1).

In Australian waters, Janss’ pipefish is legally protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (7), and is also covered by regional legislation that protects pipefish species or requires harvesting to be closely monitored (3). All exports of syngnathid species from Australia require permits (3).

At present, there are no other conservation measures specifically targeting Janss’ pipefish, but this colourful species is likely to occur in a number of Marine Protected Areas throughout its range (1).

Find out more about Janss’ pipefish and other pipefish species:

More information on marine conservation in Australia:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
  2. FishBase - Janss’ pipefish (November, 2012)
  3. Fishes of Australia (November, 2012)
  4. Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. and Steene, R.C. (1997) Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, Hawaii.
  5. Smith, M.M. and Heemstra, P.C. (2003) Smiths’ Sea Fishes. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  6. Carpenter, K.E. (2002) Syngnathidae. In: The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Atlantic. Volume 2: Bony Fishes Part 1 (Acipenseridae to Grammatidae). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
  7. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2012) Doryrhamphus janssi. In: Species Profile and Threats Database. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available at: