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At first glance, you might not notice a bay pipefish gliding through the eelgrass—its long, pencil-slim body and greenish color mimic a swaying blade of eelgrass. And in place of scales, jointed, bonelike rings encircle this fish’s body. To eat, a hungry pipefish gets its tubular, toothless mouth an inch or so away from its prey—and slurps.
Pipefish have tiny dorsal, pectoral and tail fins that beat rapidly as the fishes leisurely swim—usually in a vertical position. Pipefish steer by moving their heads from side to side.
No major commercial or sport fisheries exist for bay pipefish, but dried pipefish and seahorses are used for medicinal purposes in some cultures. Pipefish, mixed with herbs, are used for whole body treatments, while seahorses are used for specific ailments. At this time pipefish are abundant. But if the demand for pipefish by alternative health care markets and collectors dramatically increases, pipefish might become as scarce as many of their seahorse relatives.
Female pipefish court the males. If the courting is successful, she deposits up to 225 eggs in brood pouches on the underside of the male’s body. Then a protective tissue forms on the pouch opening, sealing the eggs inside. The male incubates the eggs and even supplies nourishment to the embryos via an attachment to his abdominal wall and bloodstream. The eggs hatch in about two weeks depending on water temperature.
Pipefish were named after the long, slim pipes men smoked in the mid-1700s.