Robust ghost pipefish also better known as False Pipefish, Tube mouth Fish, Blue-Finned Ghost Pipefish, Squaretail Ghost Pipefish and Seagrass Ghost Pipefish are in fact not members of the Pipefish family, but are closely related to the Pipefish and Sea Horse family, which is perhaps why the Robust Ghost Pipefish while having the long tube-like snout taking up 1/3 of its size is similar to the pipefish, and its body covered with external plates makes its appearance and size more like a seahorse.
With their incredible ability to mimic their surroundings and their tiny size, it is not surprising that these spectacular critters are seldom spotted by divers. Robust ghost pipefishes are masters of disguise. In fact they may have some of the best disguises in the sea but when viewed, they are one of the oceans most beautiful creatures!
Robust ghost pipefish are closely related to Seahorses, but unlike Seahorses, male robust ghost pipefish do not have a pouch in which the young are reared. Instead the female has the pouch and has to look after the eggs.
Robust ghost pipefishes are also different to seahorses in several other ways. A robust ghost pipefish’s head is held at an angle to the body, but not at such a large angle as that of the seahorse. Robust ghost pipefishes have two dorsal fins whereas a seahorse only has one.
Colour varies from place to place blending in with surroundings ranging from Green to brown.
In certain habitats, like among rocks and macroalgae, they assume a blotched color pattern.
The robust ghost pipefish mimics the appearance of rotting sea grass or seaweed making it very difficult to spot. The species grows up to 15cms, live at depths of 5-20m and are also characterised by their hard body plates and tubular snouts, similar to the closely related seahorses.
Robust ghost pipefish use their incredible camouflage as their best line of defence. Their hard body plates also make them difficult to swallow for many smaller predators.
Female robust ghost pipefish can be up to twice as large as males and groups of smaller males are often seen accompanying a larger female as she produces and incubates the eggs.
It is easily distinguished from other members of the genus by the short caudal peduncle, and a highly distinctive deep snout. The snout is especially wide in larger males. Its body is also sometimes covered with small filaments. The caudal fin of this species is lanceolate, with the membranes between the rays being slightly incised. The robust ghost pipefish will usually hang vertically, with its head directed towards the sea floor, but will sometimes adopt a horizontal orientation to the substrate when it swims.
It can easily be identified by a uniform colouration of beige, brown, black, green or very rarely bright red. It has no filaments or hairs and no distinctive markings over the body. It mimics seagrasses with uncanny ability and also sways with surge or current in the same way as an inanimate leaf.
The species feeds on plankton and small crustaceans, such as shrimp, mysids (opossum shrimps) and benthic creatures which it sucks off the seafloor. Robust ghost pipefish often hang upside down while feeding and the unassuming prey is sucked up through the specially adapted snout.
Unlike seahorses, male robust ghost pipefishes do not have a pouch in which the young are reared, instead a female ghost pipefish looks after the eggs in a pouch formed by her modified ventral fins. These fins are greatly expanded and united with the abdomen along the upper margin and below to form a brood pouch (almost like a kangaroo!).
After incubation, the eggs are released into the water column and are planktonic, travelling with the currents until they find a suitable reef to inhabit.
The eggs spend a relatively long amount of time floating around in the ocean as plankton, reaching almost adult length before they finally settle onto the reef. This means that they have a wide geographic range since they can travel long distances after they are born. The robust ghost pipefish are generally found living in male and female pairs.
Where to Find Robust Ghost Pipefish
The robust ghost pipefish tend to make their homes in current swept areas, close to a steady stream of food. Always found in pairs or family groups floating with head down mimicking seagrass on seagrass beds at the edge of reefs. When disturbed it will move into the vegetation.
hovering close to the substrate or some sort of submerged object offering a measure of protection from open-water predators: they usually seem to prefer silty, open substrates in coastal calm and shallow waters, often being found on coarse sand and broken coral rubble, but in fact it is not uncommon at all finding them in rich coral reef areas too.
We encounter these in both Thailand and Komodo. However, in Thailand they tend to be very well camoflauged in detrius. In Komodo we more easily find them in the shallows.
Robust ghost pipefish are not considered to be great to eat and unlike their cousins the seahorses are not prized for their medicinal powers, so they are rarely fished. They are most at threat from the aquarium trade and loss of habitat due to the overall decline of the worlds reefs.
The robust ghost pipefish is one of those sea creatures that divers simply love , mainly due to the fact that these tiny creatures are so difficult to spot, blending in so well with their surroundings, that often the only way to see robust ghost pipefish is to dive with an experienced dive master who knows where they live on the reef. The second reason for these creatures being so popular with divers is that they are simply stunning and unusual creatures to look at, as they hover motionlessly upside down looking like an extension of the coral behind it.