Sunday 28 July 2013

Ghost Pipefish

Image: Nick Hobgood
Gosh! Ghosts have sure gotten funky lately! I don't think I have any bedsheets like this... yet. Looks like haunting my neighbours is going to be a carnival from now on!

Ghost Pipefish aren't really Pipefish at all! That's why they're also known as False Pipefish. They belong to an entire family of their own called Solenostomidae, and in that family is just one genus, and in that genus is only about 5 or so species.

Image: Randall, J.E.
Long-tailed Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus armatus)
The Long-tailed Ghost Pipefish has perhaps the smallest range of all the Ghost Pipefish. It can only be found between Indonesia and Japan, while others can be found throughout the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, from Africa to Japan and Australia.

Image: Nick Hobgood
Delicate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus leptosomus)
The Delicate Ghost Pipefish gives us a good look at a Ghost Pipefish's body. You can see the long snout and big head that take up such a huge proportion of the body length. Then there's a big dorsal fin on top and a big ventral fin below so it looks like an aardvark with bat wings. Turns out an aardvark with bat wings is just what I've always wanted!

If you look closely, you can see that behind the big dorsal fin is a small transparent one with a corresponding anal fin underneath. That's one way we know this isn't a true Pipefish, since they have just one dorsal fin and none of the others we just looked at. Who thought a ghost would hog all the body parts?

Image: Klaus Stiefel
Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)
The Robust Ghost Pipefish is the biggest of them all, reaching up to 17 cm (7 in) long.

Image: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Check out its skeleton! Why's a skeleton dressing up as a ghost? .

Here we can see how the female (top) is somewhat larger than the male (bottom). We can also see two features which mark the Ghost Pipefish as a member of the order Syngnathiformes. Like Pipefish and Seahorses, they have fused jaws with a small mouth at the end so that they have to suck up tiny crustaceans when they eat.

Image: Nemo's Great Uncle
We can also see how, like Pipefish and Seahorses, they have rings of bony plates surrounding their body...

Image: prilfish
Their incredibly thin body. I've never shaved with a ghost before. Turns out ghost razors is another thing I've always wanted.

Image: Steve Childs
Ghost Pipefish are mostly pelagic, spending their formative months drifting and swimming around closer to the water's surface. At this time they're almost completely transparent before they settle on the ocean floor and get some colour in their cheeks.

In the case of the Robust Ghost Pipefish they can end up with a wide range of colours, like green, grey, brown, pink or yellow. They hang almost motionless, head down over sand or mud and look just like a bit of seaweed. And of course, they're about as thin as a leaf, too!

Image: prilfish
Velvet Ghost Pipefish
A few other species that are sometimes talked about are the Roughsnout Ghost Pipefish and the Velvet Ghost Pipefish, but they may in fact be variants of the Robust. A ghost in a velvet suit? I can dig it! Way better than the dowdy bed sheets I've been wearing all this time.

Video: Shane Siers
Halimeda Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus halimeda).
Looks like he's holding on with a bit of thread!

Back to the proper species and we find that the Halimeda Ghost Pipefish is the smallest of them all, reaching about 6.5 cm (2.6 in) long. They get their name from the fact that they look just like cactus algae of the genus Halimeda. It's that camouflage thing again!

Green. Be green and look like a plant. That works for me. It's good, old fashioned, meat-and-potatoes camouflage, just like grandma use to make...

Image: Steve Childs
Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus)
Which brings us to the Ornate Ghost Pipefish.

It's also known as the Harlequin Ghost Pipefish because that's what it looks like. Those darn theatricals! That's what grandma used to say.

Image: sturmjah
I find it difficult to understand how this is supposed to work. After all that expert camouflage earning them the "Ghost" part of their name we suddenly find one adorned with glorious, eye-catching colour. It's so ridiculously eye-catching they're pretty much juggling my eyes, throwing them up and catching them over and over again.

Perhaps predators see it and simply can't work out what it is at all? Maybe they're like "does not compute" and move on?

Video: Nick Turner
Relaxing with a local Crinoid. Suddenly it all makes sense!

But then you see them lounging around coral or feather stars! If you see them...

Ornate Ghost Pipefish tend not to hang out on the sea floor, they prefer slightly higher spaces. With a suitable backdrop behind them those complicated patterns and ludicrous over-abundance of sticky-out bits merge really well with the stems and tentacles.

It's a bit like how tiger camouflage works. Put them in a photography studio and it doesn't work too well. Put them in the place where they actually live and it's pretty great.

Image: Bernard DUPONT
Although sometimes they just shine as gloriously as the Bat Signal which calls out to BatAardvark. Except it's all spiky and Harley Quinn did it so I hope he knows it's a trap.

The Ornate Ghost Pipefish is another one who starts off tiny, transparent and floating around in the sea. They later settle down to mature and mate. Ghost Pipefish are often seen in pairs and they may well be monogamous.

Video: liquidguru

However, unlike Pipefish and Seahorses, it's not the male who gets pregnant, Those great, big ventral fins on the underside are modified into a kind of brood pouch which the female uses to hold her eggs.

They hatch, and production soon begins on the next season of the Adventures of BatAardvark. They just have to grow up first. I can't wait to see how the showdown with Harley Quinn turns out!


TexWisGirl said...

now THESE critters are cute. :)

Joseph JG said...

Hahaha! We got there in the end!

Daniel Berke said...

Those Ornate Ghost Pipefish are beautiful.

Joseph JG said...

I know! They're incredible!