Ribboned pipefish (Haliichthys taeniophorus)

Also known as: ribboned pipehorse, ribboned seadragon
Synonyms: Haliichthys taeniophora
GenusHaliichthys (1)
SizeLength: up to 30 cm (2) (3)
Top facts

The ribboned pipefish has yet to be classified on the IUCN Red List.

The ribboned pipefish (Haliichthys taeniophorus) belongs to the Syngnathidae, a family of fish consisting of seahorses, pipefishes, and the weedy and leafy sea dragons. This family is named for its distinctive jaw structure, with syngnathus meaning ‘fused jaw’ in Greek (4).

Like other pipefish species, the ribboned pipefish has a slender, elongate body and a small mouth located at the tip of a long, tube-like snout (5) (6). Interestingly, pipefish species do not have scales, but are instead encased in a series of bony rings (6). The ribboned pipefish is a relatively large member of the Syngnathidae, and is the only species in the genus Haliichthys (2). This name comes from the Greek words als meaning ‘salt’ and ichthys meaning ‘fish’ (2) (5).

The ribboned pipefish is quite an ornate species, with relatively short, strong, prominent spines on its head and body, in addition to spines or knobs on its body ridges (2). This species has a single dorsal fin (6), and its head and body are adorned with leafy appendages (2). It is these appendages, as well as its large size, that distinguish the ribboned pipefish from other pipefish species (2).

The colouration and patterning of the ribboned pipefish are variable (2), and appear to be dependent on habitat type. Some individuals are brown or reddish with a white belly, irregular dark bands or blotches across the back, and black leafy appendages (2) (7), and are generally caught in trawls, whereas ribboned pipefish found in shallower water tend to be greenish-yellow (2). Male and female ribboned pipefish differ slightly in appearance (5), with the male sporting a brood pouch (2) (5) (6).

A tropical species (5), the ribboned pipefish is found in the Indo-Pacific, from the Indonesian waters around Irian Jaya to southern Papua New Guinea, and parts of northern and western Australia (2) (3) (7). In its Australian range, the ribboned pipefish occurs from the waters of Shark Bay in Western Australia to the Torres Strait in northern Queensland (1) (5).

A marine species (5), the ribboned pipefish is known to inhabit a wide variety of inshore shallow water areas (2) (4), including coral reefs and sea beds associated with algae, seaweed, sponges or seagrass (2) (4) (5). Although this species is generally found over soft substrates such as sand and mud (2) (5), it is also known to occur in more rocky and gravelly habitats (2). The ribboned pipefish is usually found at water depths up to 16 metres (2) (5).

Although little information is available on the specific biology of the ribboned pipefish, this species is known to prey on small planktonic crustaceans (2), and feeds by sucking them up into its elongated snout (4).

Like other pipefish and seahorses, ribboned pipefish have an unusual breeding system in which the male is in charge of egg incubation (6). The female ribboned pipefish has a specialised organ known as an ovipositor (5), which is used to deposit the pear-shaped, yellowish or orange eggs (2) onto the underside of the male, where they are fertilised (6). The male then carries the eggs around in a semi-exposed ‘brood pouch’ located under its tail (2) (4) (5) (6). The pouch is surrounded by blood capillaries to supply oxygen to the developing embryos (2) (6). When the young ribboned pipefish hatch, they look very similar to the adults (2).

The ribboned pipefish is not thought to be facing any major threats at present. However, it is known to inhabit trawling grounds, although data on bycatch of this species has not been well documented (2). In addition, many species of pipefish are sold in Asian markets as food, curios, medicine and aphrodisiacs (6).

The ribboned pipefish is not known to be the target of any specific conservation actions, although it is protected under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (2).

Find out more about the ribboned pipefish and other pipefish species:

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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. Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (December, 2012)
  2. Fishes of Australia - Ribboned pipehorse (December, 2012)
  3. Jennings, G.H. (1997) The Sea and Freshwater Fishes of Australia & New Guinea: North East, North, North-West Australia and New Guinea: The 1997 Classified Taxonomic Checklist. Calypso Publications, London.
  4. BBC Nature - Syngnathidae (December, 2012)
  5. Fishbase - Haliichthys taeniophorus (December, 2012)
  6. Carpenter, K.E. (2002) Syngnathidae. In:The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. Volume 4: Bony Fishes Part 2 (Mugilidae to Carangidae). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:

  7. Weber, M.C.W. and de Beaufort, L.F. (1929) The Fishes of the Indo-Australian Archipelago. Brill Archive, Holland.