Freshwater Pipefish: Facts, Lifespan, Care, Feeding, & Breeding

This fish, first as a creature, is one that would catch the attention of anyone who sets their eyes on it for the first time. This is mainly because it looks like it has the combined morphology of a small snake and a seahorse. It is a long fish which is encased in rings. To easily identify them, they are usually dark olive green or uniformly brown. They have silvery, white bars that stroke them vertically by their sides. This gives a Y-shaped outcome most times. The females of this species are identified by the V-shaped stripes that run down her sides. Also, they are usually slightly darker than the males. The males have a dorsal fin free of spots.

They are highly captivating. However, people do not often set their eyes on this creature as they form the diet of larger sport fish and are usually found in their stomachs. They belong to the family Syngnathidae and are called Syngnathus Scovelli.

This aquatic animal is originally called Gulf Pipefish but referred to more informally as Freshwater Pipefish.

They can be found around the Atlantic coastal regions of northern Georgia, the southward region of the Florida coast down into the Mexican Gulf and the south of a place in Brazil called Sao Paulo. Some freshwater pipefishes have also been found in some parts of Africa.

Lifespan & Size

The information concerning their growth and larva development process is limited. However, it is known that they mature in the first six months following birth and they live lower than one year.

They are really small; regarded as one of the smallest of the species of pipefish. The females are usually slightly larger than the males, but their maximum size is 6 inches. Their circumference is just about that of a pencil.

Behavior & Characteristics

Freshwater pipefish are timid. They cannot effectively compete for food. For this reason, they can’t be kept with hyperactive fishes (such as tetras or barbs) that can easily consume available food.

Just like other pipefishes, they have an external skeleton which is hard, a mouth with the shape of a tube, a tail to allow them to stay in position (when necessary) and a dorsal fin that allows them to course through the water. These features make them quite similar to seahorses.

They have a daily greeting ritual. This greeting brings out their color with the female also turning black, as the male almost turns yellow in full.

It is difficult to keep them in an aquarium, but if this must be done, a continuous supply of their live food is necessary. Also, the aquarium should be set up in a portion of the house with access to adequate sunlight. As the sun rises and its light shines on them, they begin the daily ritual by greeting (just the way seahorses do it). The change in coloration occurs. They are known to straighten themselves out; taking on a vertical form. They engage in some twists, and the reproduction process may begin if the pair is ready to mate.

Nutrition

They feed on live food, and this is a reason why it is difficult to keep them in a home aquarium. Their feeding is usually done in daylight. They dedicate their entire day to the hunting down of their food. They need good lighting to see all the creatures coursing through the water, to get their food. Their feeding is continual as they have no fat reserve. Their lack of fat reserve is as a result of their hard exoskeleton. Despite this fact, they can’t go on without food for long periods. Going for a few days without food can be very deadly for them, yet their diets are large. They look out for what is available in abundance in each season; including insects that can be easily taken into their mouths.

Here are some foods that you can give your freshwater pipefishes:

  • Small crustaceans including:
  • Tanaids
  • Copepods
  • Isopods
  • Amphipods
  • The larger species typically feed on:
  • Caridean shrimp
  • Crustacean eggs
  • Amphipods
  • They also eat deliberately prepared and fortified meals (these meals are usually fried):
  • Microworms
  • Paramecia
  • Infusoria
  • Vinegar eels
  • Frozen cyclops

Small crustaceans including:

  • Tanaids
  • Copepods
  • Isopods
  • Amphipods

The larger species typically feed on:

  • Caridean shrimp
  • Crustacean eggs
  • Amphipods

They also eat deliberately prepared and fortified meals (these meals are usually fried):

  • Microworms
  • Paramecia
  • Infusoria
  • Vinegar eels
  • Frozen cyclops

Care & Housing

As previously established, it is difficult to have this species in home aquariums. This animal is of marine-estuarine species. Their preference is for brackish water, fresh water or water with a high level of salinity. However, if they are kept in an aquarium, their care must be done meticulously. A casual aquarist would not succeed in their care. 

First, the importance of sunlight cannot be overemphasized for them. It is also important to feed them with their kinds of food by artificial means. Their foods have to be deliberately prepared and fortified in the right ways to ensure they get the best of it and survive. To make the job of caring easier, it is better for the size of the aquarium to be kept small, and the use of a sponge filtration system is also encouraged.

It takes a lot of effort to get them to eat deliberately prepared food as their preference is for food that looks like it is in motion. However, serious efforts can help train them to eat foods like frozen Mysis shrimp.

The sponge filtration system would allow for the adequate amount of food to be present in the aquarium per time, as the amount of food taken in by the freshwater pipefishes would be regulated.

If you can’t stick with the level of attention that comes with caring for this species, it is better not to have them for keeps at all. The aquarium should be kept at a temperature of 25-28⁰C and a pH level of 6-7.

As a result of their shy behavior, it is also advised that leafy plants (such as Java fern, Anubis, Vallisneria or Elodea) are planted in the aquarium. Freshwater pipefishes will typically anchor themselves to these plants while feeding. 

Tank mates for freshwater pipefish

The fact that they have to eat very often (as they have no fat reserves) makes the issue of tank mates a delicate one. Other pipefishes easily survive with seahorses, as they cannot compete with them for live food successfully. Their shy behavior also plays a huge role in determining their tank mates.

As for freshwater pipefishes, the tank mates that have been found to be appropriate in ensuring their survival are:

  • Plecos (since they are lazy and sluggish).
  • Stock pipefishes (these pipefishes do not compete for live food).
  • Small gobies (these are the only organisms freshwater pipefishes can compete with in water).
  • Corydoras
  • Scarlet Badis
  • Ember tetras

Breeding & Reproduction

Surprisingly, for Freshwater pipefishes, the male produces their young ones. They give birth to them alive and formed fully. The pouch of the male is identified as the triangle-shaped appearance in its lower abdomen.

The courtship that occurs between freshwater pipefishes is such an elaborate one. The female starts it. The male and female species get swimming together, go to the surface, and then intertwine their bodies. A mature male always has a brood pouch, and it comes to play in the process of reproduction.

When they are done mating, the male freshwater pipefish rubs his brood pouch just at the bottom. By this action, the eggs are moved to the back of the pouch. A pregnant male has an apparent abdominal bulge. These eggs have to wait over a period for their maturity. A sign that they are mature is a bright-orange coloration and an oval/pear-shaped structure. The eggs remain in the ovarian lumen for 14-15 days, and at this period, a temperature of 24.5 degrees Celsius is necessary for the eggs to hatch. The male has to brood over the eggs for this period. Males from different females usually collect several eggs. The transfer of eggs is generally done very rapidly with a move involving their bellies. Then, they get separated from the females quick enough.

The period of gestation is quite brief. As for brooding, warm temperatures make the process faster.

Closing

While freshwater pipefishes generally require a high level of care and attention, the effort is always worth it as they are indeed fascinating to look upon. If as an aquarist, you’re up for a challenge, this is the experience you want to try out. You will absolutely love it, and you would also have several tales to tell on the journey of getting acquainted with your new aquatic friend.