Some notes on the identification of the six species of pipefish found in British seas.
Many people have difficulty
in positively identifying the individual species of pipefish (the family
found in the shallow seas surrounding the British Isles. This is especially
true of the juveniles, but until you have seen all the species, the adults
can also pose problems in identification. I hope these notes will help
beginners and amateur naturalists to put the correct name to each species.
CLICK ON THIS TEXT FOR MORE SNAKE PIPEFISH REPORTS
6:00 pm - 7:45 pm
Seahorses and Pipefish in the North Sea
Scientific Seminar, three speakers
Venue: Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London
Free admission for the talks
Booking in advance only for the dinner
Contact: Joy Hayward
Details including the Speakers (Link)
Full Program Details
to September 2007
Snake Pipefishes, Entelurus aequoreus, have been seen in huge numbers at sea and on the shore off the coast of Cornwall.
15 June 2007
We found a Snake Pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus, at Tayport in Fife, Scotland. I found it in rocks near the edge of the water, it was dead and quite dried up. We didn't know what it was but your website helped us find out. We have kept it in the garden. I called him
Jamie. Everyone thought it was a stick but I knew it was a fish because it has eyes. I like finding things at the beach and I like
finding out what they are.
27 May 2007
this brilliant sequence of photographs, Nic
Direct.com), captures a European
lutra, in the process of capturing
a Snake Pipefish,
aequoreus, on the Isle
of Mull (map),
Argyll and Bute, Inner
Hebrides, SW Scotland.
Five Snake Pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus, were seen stranded on the beach by equinoctial high spring tide at Spittal (Northumberland) south of Berwick-upon-Tweed (NU 006 519). They were still just about alive and were returned to the sea.
Report by Neil Dickson
11 February 2007
I found this Snake Pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus, (photographed above) washed up alive on the beach at Saltburn, Cleveland. It was 40 cm long. There were hundreds of them along the shoreline, most were alive and we put quite a few of them back into the sea. The sea was quite rough that day.
I was filling up my bird feeder looked down and saw what I now know is a Snake Pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus, after getting my son to check on the internet and he came up with your website.
We live in Guernsey in the Channel Islands. I live on the coast road on the west coast near Port Grat. Initially I thought it was a slow worm shedding its tail but when I put my glasses on and picked it up as it was obviously dead and dried out but perfect in one piece. I realised it had gills and the top fin had dried against its body. It has dried in the shape of a question mark its head reminds me of a seahorse and body of a small snake. I thought you might be interested and I can only guess that it was dropped by a passing seagull.
27-28 January 2007
After the gales even more (at least seven over the weekend) reports of Snake Pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus, were received from the Scottish borders (east coast), and the east coast of England from Northumberland to Essex. Some were washed up dead and others were returned to the sea alive.
Pipefish washed up at Immingham
on the River Humber estuary.
Report and Photograph by Martin HopperNB: This is a small specimen and I am not absolutely sure of its ID.
I have received numerous (well over a dozen) reports of Snake Pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus, from around the northern and eastern coast of Britain from divers seeing live fish and beachcombers discovering dead fish on the strandline. There have been too many reports for me to reply to them straightaway. Replies will be sent ASAP.
reach a wide audience, join and post a message on the
MARINE WILDLIFE OF
THE NORTH-EAST ATLANTIC OCEAN
(LINK TO EFORUM PAGE)
&/or join and send pictures to
flickr British Marine Life Gallery
The Worm Pipefish is usually
found under stones or slabs at the low water mark. Invariably when I discover
one at least 50 others will be present in the immediate area.
It is a small pipefish, between 4 cm and 10 cm long, with some authorities giving a full adult size of 15 cm or 17 cm. On the Swansea coast I have never caught one larger than 12 cm. In the British seas they are found on the south and west shores and are rare from the Sussex coast.
They do not have a tail fin and cannot really be mistaken for anything else, if only because of their short snub snout. The colour is usually a dark brown shading to light fawn. This is the usual colouring, but in bays on the Gower estuary in south Wales I have regularly caught emerald green fish living in the same habitat with the dark brown specimens.
Possibly, juvenile specimens
could be confused with the larger and rarer Straight-nosed Pipefish, Nerophis
ophidion. Both species carry their eggs stuck to the underside of the
belly, and both species lack the caudal (tail) fin. I have never captured
a Straight-nosed Pipefish but this fish is reported as attaining a possible
25 cm so this is a much larger fish and the name of 'straight-nose' gives
us a clue. Even in a juvenile fish I would expect the straight nose to
be present so I feel that the emerald pipefish that I have caught must
be colour variants of the normal Worm Pipefish.
NB. Jon Makeham captured a Straight-nosed Pipefish at Looe early in 1997, and the difference was immediately apparent because of the much larger size and the very noticeable straight nose.
Worm Pipefish spawn in my tanks every year around March to April and the fry hatch around May at a size of between 10 mm and 20 mm, but they are so thin that they can only just be seen with the naked eye. Feeding them would be very difficult so I do not attempt to raise them. They normally disappear within hours in the community aquarium.
In captivity the Worm Pipefish is mild mannered and does not bother or appear to be bothered by the less aggressive species of other fish, and is therefore an excellent exhibit in aquaria. They should be kept apart from sea anemones. They seem to be able to find food in a mixed aquarium without special feeding and will live for years. They will tolerate temperatures up to 21°C.
"Key to the Fishes of Northern Europe" says:
The males carry the eggs in a shallow groove on the belly, and are found with eggs in June to August. On hatching (date not given), the young are about 10 mm and live in the plankton for a short while, but can be found on the shore in September and October at 3 - 4 cm in length, - presumably then a few months old. "
I was having another look through your web site for info on the Worm Pipefish, Nerophis lumbriciformis, I collected a specimen from the shore near Kingairloch on the East Side of the Firth of Lorne, Scotland in November 2001. It has only just started to venture out from cover allowing a positive identification, only has a dorsal fin, is brown in colour and about 12 cm long.
This species also has the name of Nilsson's Pipefish.
These fish grow to a maximum length of 17 cm, although in south Wales they are usually between 10 cm and 13 cm in length. They are light to dark brown in colour with bar-like markings on the sides. We catch most of them in the open sea over sand when pushing along shrimp nets.
The adult fish adopt the practice, common in pipefish, of the male carrying about 100 eggs in a belly pouch. The young hatch after about 3 weeks and are pelagic.
There is a possibility
of confusing a fully grown Lesser Pipefish for a young Greater Pipefish.
They both display similar coloration and markings and they both possess
a caudal fin and swim in a similar style. The adult Greater Pipefish attains
three times the size and is more often found in weedy areas, although they
are also taken in the shrimp nets. One distinguishing feature of the Lesser
Pipefish is a continuous black line from the vent down the belly to tail,
although this is difficult to make out on very young specimens.
Lesser Pipefish are found all around the British Isles and as far south as the French coast.
Aquarium temperatures, ideally, should not exceed 18°C for this species, which needs to be fed on live food like mysids. I have caught young Lesser Pipefish of between 4 cm and 6 cm two miles up the Loughor River estuary when using a fine net to capture mysid shrimps. I assume that these small pipefish were feeding on the mysids.
The Greater Pipefish has distinctive body rings, coloured a sandy brown with darker bars all along the armoured body. The fish are regularly 33 cm to 35 cm in length with a reported maximum length of 47 cm. The smallest one I have caught was 25 cm long. They are almost square in each segment of the body, and feel really rigid when handled.
It would be difficult for the inexperienced to sex the previously mentioned pipefish, but this one is very obvious. It makes me think of the old expression 'topping and tailing', because the top third of the females belly is deep (when egg bound), twice the breadth of the lower two thirds below the vent. The male is the 'tailing' with the twin folds below the vent, resembling bomb doors on an aircraft. The folds of the skin occupy the middle third and during the 'brooding' of the young they swell in size until the young are released from the pouch at a size of 22 mm to 35 mm.
The Greater Pipefish is
found all around the British Isles and in the whole of the Mediterranean
Sea. They have a voracious appetite for live food of mysids and small prawns.
The Greater Pipefish is able to jump out of uncovered aquaria. Propulsion is by undulations of the small dorsal fin.
notes on the young when they leave the pouch (Link)
|19 June 2011|
Gull capturing Pipefish
An unusual sight on the Helford River, Cornwall, I was alerted by gulls 'working' in an area of the river to the east of Golden Gear and stretching across the river to Trebah and as far down river as Boshan. They were diving and catching fish,. Interested to see what they were feeding on I stayed in the area and was able to see that they were catching pipefish. I counted at least 25 pipefish caught by gulls, but there were many many more.
I found what I think, from looking at your web page, is a snake or greater
pipefish. It is approximately 40 cm long. I found it on my lawn, I suppose
dropped by a seagull. I live close to the Teign estuary, Teignmouth, South
Also called the Deep-snouted Pipefish.
Unfortunately, I have
not been able to discover any of these fish from the south Wales coast.
I would be interested to hear of reports from other rockpoolers.
NB. This pipefish is caught in the Thames estuary and displayed at the London Zoo Aquarium where the fish looks very much like the Greater Pipefish apart from the distinctive broad snout. If you have ever seen a Greater Pipefish, the two species could not possibly be confused. AH.
Further information has been obtained about this fish (but it is not ready for publication yet).
This pipefish is found on the Dorset coast (Bob Alexander, 1998) and the north coast of Guernsey (Richard Lord, 1999) also from around the Isle of Wight (Luke Richards).
Syngnathus typhle (=Siphonostoma typhle) among bladder wrack. Photographed at Tjärnö Aquarium by Mike Noren.
Type designated by Fowler 1906:93 [ref. 1371], predating Jordan 1912:103 as given by ICZN; on Official List (Opinion 77, Direction 56); *Syngnathus* Rafinesque 1810 placed on Official Index (Direction 56). Valid (Wheeler 1973:274 [ref. 7190], Fritzsche 1980:198 [ref. 1511], Dawson 1982:55 [ref. 6764], Araga in Masuda et al. 1984:87 [ref. 6441], Dawson 1985:181 [ref. 6541], Dawson 1986:287 [ref. 6201], Dawson 1986:457 [ref. 5650]).
NB: Siphonostoma typhle is not valid. Siphostoma is not valid.
PLEASE CLICK ON THIS TEXT FOR MORE SNAKE PIPEFISH REPORTS
The Snake Pipefish can be easily recognised because, as its name suggests, it looks like a snake. Its length is about 40 cm for the male and 45 cm for the female. Its body is round and supple with a thickness of 4 - 6 mm. It is usually coloured in a yellow-gold-brown shade, ringed approximately every 4 mm by bands of blue edged with black, from just behind the gills down to the tail. I hesitate to say tail because the vestige of a caudal fin is not noticeable.
The fish is said
to be uncommon throughout most of its range all around the British Isles,
but it is common from Swansea west to Pembrokeshire. Books report it as
an open sea species, in contrast to the other British pipefishes which
occupy coastal areas. However, it is regularly found at the very low spring
tide mark off south Wales. All reports of this fish should be sent in to
House so we can gauge the frequency of this fish.
Snake PipefishIn aquaria the Snake Pipefish thrives if fed on live mysids. It should be kept away from the Sea Stickleback, Spinachia spinachia, which is a notorious fin-nipper and bully to smaller fishes. The maximum temperature for this fish is 180C.
Snake Pipefish regularly
come inshore along the Dorset coast in May and June, presumably to breed.
All the fish I have seen have been amongst the small brown seaweed Halidrys
siliquosa. (Jane Lilley)
Jim Hall (Swansea) has bred this fish in aquaria, watching the courtship, eggs hatching from the males pouch etc. 1999.
by Jim Hall
Three male Snake Pipefish and one female have been in my aquarium for at least two years and suddenly, on 28 July 1999, eggs were spotted on the belly of one male! Excited is an understatement. Although I had not witnessed the actual laying of the eggs onto the male's belly there was no question that it had happened in my tank. I removed that male to a quieter tank and within 14 days another male was carrying eggs, so I removed that one as well to see if the third male would receive any eggs. He is a younger male and so far he is not carrying eggs.
Following the birth, after approximately 14 days, of the eggs from the first male pipefish, I replaced this fish back into the larger 2 metre aquarium with the female and the younger male. Two weeks later that same male had eggs on his belly once again but still no eggs on the younger fish. The belly region of the female that has been quite distended since January has now retracted, presumably meaning that spawning is over for this year.
aquarium was cooled to 15° C with a System
|Scientific Name (Frequency)||Common Name||Location||Grid Ref.||Date||Recorder||Comments|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Oxwich Bay Gower||12-Mar-93||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Enterulus aequeorus (2)||Snake Pipefish||Mumbles Swansea||5-Jul-93||Jim Hallemail@example.com|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Gelliswick Bay Milford Haven||29-Mar-94||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Oxwich Bay, Gower||22/07/94||Jim Hallemail@example.com|
|Enterulus aequeorus (2)||Snake Pipefish||Gelliswick Bay Milford Haven||07/09/94||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Enterulus aequeorus (2)||Snake Pipefish||Port Eynon Gower||31/07/96||Jim Hallemail@example.com|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Gelliswick Bay Milford Haven||08-Apr-97||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Enterulus aequeorus (2)||Snake Pipefish||Mumbles Swansea||08/07/97||Jim Hallemail@example.com|
|Enterulus aequeorus (2)||Snake Pipefish||Oxwich Bay Gower||22/09/98||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Enterulus aequeorus (2)||Snake Pipefish||Oxwich Bay Gower||07/10/98||Jim Hallemail@example.com|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Mumbles Swansea||27/08/99||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Mumbles Swansea||25/10/99||Jim Hallemail@example.com|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Oxwich Bay Gower||30/08/00||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Enterelus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Off Worthing Pier Sussex||June 2000||Paul Parsons||Diver.Parsons@btinternet.com||Rare record|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Mumbles Swansea||13/12/00||Jim Hallemail@example.com||Winter|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Mumbles Swansea||February 2001||Jim Hallfirstname.lastname@example.org||Winter|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Bamburgh
Beach in Northumberland
|9 June 2002||Rachael Plews
|email@example.com||Washed up dead|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Treaddur Bay, Anglesey||15 March 2003||Bill Richardsonfirstname.lastname@example.org||Alive, mid-tidal pool|
|Enterulus aequeorus (quite a few)||Snake Pipefish||Mumbles Swansea||7 August 2003||Julian Wynnemail@example.com||Shallows near the shore|
|Enterulus aequeorus (1)||Snake Pipefish||Ynys Llas nr Borth in west Wales||10 February 2005||Laurence Howellsfirstname.lastname@example.org||Washed up on the beach alive and returned to the sea|
by ANDY HORTON
Always good to see this type of information. My experience with these fish in Cornwall is they can be found all year round, but are easier to catch in the Summer months as they hide in strong growths of red seaweed, and therefore can be netted. In the Winter, they are usually found under large (i.e. the largest I can lift, probably 30-35 kilos) stones.
I have never managed to spot a vestigial tail fin either. Other than size, the distinguishing feature of this fish (at least here) is the presence of Kingfisher blue bands around the body, which they all exhibit.
previously reported to you, Enterulus aequoreus is a not uncommon
find in SE Cornwall. I have found to date some 120 specimens over seven
years on the exposed reef at Hannafore Point, Looe, and have kept them
with some success in
my aquaria, the larger adults being quite spectacular residents, as they swim around happily in mid-water and do not display the habit of other pipefish of constantly hiding. Fish 20-30cm are normally found, males and females, usually in association with the larger red seaweeds, especially Palmaria palmata.
I've only seen them close to the seabed among algae, mainly Halidrys siliquosa, the Sea Oak, where they are fairly inconspicuous. But they are also said to swim at the surface in summer, especially among floating algal debris, and often far out to sea. Perhaps the stream of bubbles resembles the turbulence and bubbles at the surface in choppy seas. Could food be more abundant there, so they seek out those conditions? Or perhaps they just like the water movement?
We also have three Snake
Pipefish in the Sea Discovery
Centre here at Axmouth, now quite used to taking frozen gamma foods,
blood worm, chopped cockle or mussel. These were caught back in May 2000
by a local fisherman in his prawn pots close to shore. Two Worm
Pipefish were also found rockpooling (one
of which was carrying eggs), which are also feeding well on the above.
Entelurus aequoreus (swedish name "större havsnål") is reasonably common on the Swedish west coast. I see some every year, usually in summer while snorkelling over eel grass, but one time I observed one in December, when it was trying to catch overwintering sticklebacks.
a pic of a Swedish Snake Pipefish, for some inscrutible reason placed under
the heading Littorina saxatilis - please check that this is the
fish we're talking about)
to a list of all species of fish found in swedish waters,with notes on
occurrence and threat level.
Norén, Doctoral student,
Stockholm University and Tel: Int +46 (0)8 5195 5163
Swedish Museum of Natural History, Fax: Int +46 (0)8 5195 4125
"Nihil umquam facile"
A Snake Pipefish curled around my camera.Video grab by Robert Walker
Pipefish washed up dead on Bamburgh Beach in Northumberland
(Identification under enquiry)
The pictures were taken
on 07 January 2006. The location was at depth 25 metres on SMS Koln, Scapa
Flow Orkney 58 deg 59' 26.6"N 02 deg 58' 24.1"W, water temp 7 deg C, there
were three of these fish.
|It looks like a Velvet
puber, has caught and is eating one of these pipefish.
Report and Photograph by Kevin Wilson (Loganair Ltd)
This pipefish looks like a much larger version of the Lesser Pipefish. It is rarely found on the shore and because this species is uncommon I would like to receive all reports of this fish from divers and rockpoolers. Please send the information to Glaucus House, address on the Homepage.
The males carry the young attached to its belly. There are no skin flaps.
This pipefish has been recorded at Looe (Jon Makeham) and there have been reports from the Dorset coast (Doug Herdson 2001).
I caught a Straight-nosed Pipefish, Nerophis ophidion, in a rockpool on Llanina beach (Ceredigion Bay, West Wales) in June 2006.
I caught it as part of a biodiversity study, submitted as course work, for the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Douglas - I can give you
an outline of the Cornish records on ERICA and will
send you more details if required. The database has 15 entries, the first
two being in the 1840s from Fal Bay and a Fal Bay beach (Gyllyngvase),
recorded by W. P, Cocks, and the last one in 2001 by Emma and Sue Hocking in
the Rosemullion Head area, mouth of the Helford Riverr James Clank in his
1909 offprint of papers (1907 and 1908) in The Zoologist, states that this
species literally swarmed between tidemarks in 1905 at the mouth of the
Helford River, Mevagissey and Gorran Haven. It was somewhat rare in 1906
and 1907, and in the early years of that century it was found 'occasionally'
on the north Cornish coast as far as Bude. Clark suggests that it is vary
variable in numbers. P. J. Miller records it at Treath, Helford in the
1980s and in the same decade it was also found in the Scillies by L. A.
Harvey, and Keith Hiscock. As you will know E. B. Ford recorded it as not
uncommon in the Zostera beds of Cawsand Bay pre-1931, and it was taken in
plankton , but D. P. Wilson writes that "its is rather rare in recent years
following the disappearance of much of the Zostera - and Wheeler (1969)
makes a similar comment concerning this species and Zostera..
I hope this is of help
Subject: Re: Straight-nosed Pipefish
SE Cornwall (Rame Head to Par, and particularly Hannafore Point, Looe),
this species is occasionally encountered, although uncommon. It shares
habitat with the Snake Pipefish, and is generally similar in behaviour.
I have kept them in my aquarium for months quite easily. More information
Straight nosed pipefish Nerophis ophidion
recorded it as plentiful in 1906, but the decline of Eelgrass (Zostera
sp.) in the early 1930's deprived the Pipe fish of their
natural habitat. Zostera is slowly re establishing itself in several places around our coast which may result in the repopulation of all Pipe fish. British record 12 ins; our Museum specimen is 14 1/2 ins.
Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2001 17:54:17 -0000
Report by Jon Makeham via the Cornish Wildlife Mailing List
From: "Jon Makeham" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Straight-nosed Pipefish
the discussion of the occurrence of these animals in Cornwall, we
found two specimens today at Hannafore Point, Looe. Both were about 12 cm in
length, females, and close to the rapidly regenerating Zostera beds on the
middle shore. We also caught a 20 cm female Snake pipefish, which makes an
Paul Kay has come to the conclusion that this southern species occurs in British waters.
Hippocampus guttulatus (=H. ramulosus)
This seems to be the only species recorded from the shore and shallow waters around the British Isles, with several specimens recently be caught in Weymouth Bay Dorset and the Fal estuary, Cornwall.
This species has
recently been called the Spiky Seahorse because of the presence of spiky
skin filaments on all or most of the species recently caught. I did not
notice this on the photograph of the specimen caught in the Fal estuary.
The presence or absence of these skin filaments is an unreliable diagnostic
feature, because many seahorses can grow or shed them (Amanda Vincent).
The only definite identification feature is the length of the snout, which
is more than one-third of its head length.
Weymouth Sea Life Centre and the Seahorse Nature Aquarium at Exeter have successfully bred the seahorses captured in Weymouth Bay and the offspring can now be seen at many of the Sea Life Centres around Britain.
In Victorian times, seahorses were captured in oyster dredgers off the Dorset coast.
This is the species that
has been identified from deep water, over 30 metres, from around the Channel
Islands. It was regarded as extremely rare in the English Channel until
The snout is less than a third of the head length.
The new Collin's Pocket Guide to Fish of Britain & Europe have excellent colour illustrations of all the British pipefishes.
Study of the Greater Pipefish
The World of Seahorse Exhibition at the National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth opens. Seahorses were already on display, but the new extended Exhibition opened to the public on this date.