Snake Pipefish – Worth knowing about the Snake Pipefish
The Snake Pipefish (Entelurus aequoreus) belongs to the family of seahorses and pipefishes (Syngnathidae). That is a subcategory of the pipefish (Syngnathiformes). This genus has 32 species. To be clear: these fish are not hunted. If you are lucky you may be able to find this species in a public aquarium. This is a marine fish that is very scarce and therefore rare to find.
What does a Snake Pipefish look like?
The snout of this fish is long and in the shape of a tube, and is longer than half their head length. Their mouths are small and set completely on the end of the long snout. With this, they can only take very small prey. Their name is derived from the peculiar shape of the snout and the elongated body.
Behind the eyes, the animal has a dark, horizontal stripe. It has a snake-like, elongated body that has light blue, rimmed vertical stripes on the sides. They vary in color from light brown to yellow-brown (orange). In contrast to many other pipefishes, the Snake Pipefish is incapable of changing color.
Furthermore, this fish also has bony body rings and plates of which 28 to 30 are in front of the anus and 60 to 70 rings after the anus. These rings serve to strengthen their rigid body and form an external skeleton, as it were.
Most Snake Pipefish do not have pectoral fins except for a few adult specimens that have only one dorsal fin (largely located in front of the anal opening). They have a small, almost invisible caudal fin with some caudal rays on it (4-6). This is used to hold on, just like the seahorses do. Their body does not contain scales. The female specimens grow up to a maximum of 65 cm and the males grow to a maximum of 40 cm. Average lengths, however, are 32 cm (13 inches) in the male and 45 cm (18 inches) in the female.
However, 2 species do not fit these descriptions, namely the “Small Snake Pipefish” and the “Large Snake Pipefish”.
Small Snake Pipefish
The small Snake Pipefish has an average length of 10 cm, but some specimens grow up to 17 cm. The large Snake Pipefish reaches a length of 50 cm.
Large Snake Pipefish
The main difference between the regular Snake Pipefish and the large Snake Pipefish is their appearance. The common one can still be easily identified, but the large one is very difficult to find among the algae because they have a good camouflage color. They also have a small bump on the neck but it is difficult to see underwater. Their color is greenish or greyish brown. The males also grow to 50 cm in length while in the common Snake Pipefish the males grow to a maximum of 40 cm. That color is darker at the top than at the bottom. They sometimes have a pattern of dirty white dots on their ventral side.
Also, check out this video about a Snake Pipefish hiding between the seaweed and squid eggs.
Where can you find the Snake Pipefish?
Snake Pipefish are located in:
- along the Atlantic Coasts
- the Azores
- Atlantic coast (up to Portugal)
It is unclear whether or not they occur in the Indo-Pacific outside South African Waters.
In European waters, the Snake Pipefish is the very last specimen of Pipefish to be recorded. Since the beginning of the year 2000, they have continued to spread in the Arctic Ocean.
With us (Belgium and the Netherlands), a Snake Pipefish has very rarely been spotted. In general, these fish prefer to live in tropical coastal waters, only a few survive in colder regions.
Because the species is very scarce to rare, the Snake Pipefish is on the Red List, but not on the International Red List of the IUCN. A Red List is updated by country every 10 years. The IUCN Red List was established in 1963.
They prefer to stay in seagrass beds or between the brown algae, but they can also be found in the open sea, and at depths between 5 to 100m. Some also like to stay in brackish water.
For their shelter, they prefer to choose large sea grass such as “Kelp” and “Zostera marina”.
Kelp (Laminariales) belongs to the order of brown algae. This order is spread to 7 families. There are even different kelp varieties grown for consumption, such as sugar weed (S. latissima) and kombu (Saccharina japonica).
You can find the Zostera marina in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in colder waters such as the North Pacific and the North Atlantic. This flowering plant dies in warmer seasons. It is the only type of seaweed that occurs in Iceland.
In the past (1977-2001) there were almost no Snake Pipefish to be found, but from 2002 they started a true conquest of the Celtic Sea and the North Sea. The climate, and in particular the warming of the sea, also plays an increasingly important role in their distribution. Now that population keeps going up and down and scientists have not yet found an explanation for this. That is why the Netherlands has difficulty in whether or not to place this fish on their Red List. (The most recent list lists the fish as not endangered).
Their food consists mainly of macrofauna and/or small crustaceans that they get from the plankton. They also like fish eggs and fish larvae that they suck up through their snout-mouth. It cannot eat in any other way either because it has no movable jaws.
Macrofauna consists of small invertebrates that can only just be seen with the eye. These include leeches, snails, beetles, flatworms, dragonfly larvae, carrion shrimp, and water woodlice. Other invertebrates (larger 0.5 mm) are also on the Snake Pipefish’s menu.
Breeding (spawning season) starts in the summer (the months of June-July). First, the female will lay between 400 and 1000 eggs, which she will then distribute to different males. She hopes that way to make sure that some of her offspring will survive.
With this, the males are given the task of taking on further breeding care. Because there is no brood pouch in the Snake Pipefish, the eggs are carried in the abdominal folds. It sometimes happens that a malnourished father eats some of the eggs himself. With this he regains his strength and thus gives more opportunities for posterity. As soon as the newborns are more than 1 cm long, they leave their father.
The Snake Pipefish lives an average of 6 years.