Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Where Do Ornate Ghost Pipefish Come From?

Ornate Ghost pipefish seemingly appear from nowhere. After months of no sightings they suddenly show up, some years it’s just a few and some years it seems every crinoid has a pair. They spend the first part of their life as plankton, drifting along in ocean currents until the time is right to settle on one of our many reefs. How long they travel the ocean currents is not known but unlikely to be long. They disappear just as quickly as the appeared and that along with their beautiful camouflage is why they’re called ghost pipefish.

The surface ocean currents along the west coast of Thailand do change seasonally. From November to May the current heads up from Sumatra and from May to October down from Myanmar and the bay of Bengal. So we have a rough idea of the direction but no real idea where they hatched from.

Once They’ve Found A Home

We usually find them on crinoids at the Racha Islands or tucked in the base of fan or whip corals at Shark Point. They’ll be almost translucent with little or no colour when they arrive, it will slowly change colour to suit its chosen host. We’ve seen them in white, red, orange, yellow and black colour variations around Phuket. The male and female pairs are generally the same colour. If let undisturbed they will most likely stay in the same place for the duration of what we believe is a very short lifespan.

translucent juvenile ornate ghost pipefish

translucent juvenile ornate ghost pipefish

Who’s Who?

Ornate ghost pipefish are sexually dimorphic, meaning that male and female have a different appearance apart from the obvious. They also have the ability to change sex when they first settle on a reef. The female is generally the larger of the pair and has large fused pelvic fins for brooding the eggs. Males appear more slender with much smaller pelvic fins that are not fused. Look closely the next time you a female she maybe holding up to 350 eggs between her fins.

The eggs are not always at the same stage of development, so she can release larvae everyday once they’re ready. The young are hatched well developed but only a few millimeters long. After hatching they’ll float along as plankton in the ocean currents to start the process again.

male and female ornate ghost pipefish

male and female ornate ghost pipefish

What’s In A Name

Ornate ghost pipefish are also known as Harlequin Ghost Pipefish depending where you are in the world. The latin name – Solenostomus paradoxus roughly translates to marvelous tube mouth, which sounds far better than its given common name. Solen means tube, stoma = mouth and paradoxus means marvelous/unexpected, quite an apt description. The tube like mouth is used to quickly suck up its unsuspecting prey – tiny crustaceans and other plankton.

Not A Pipefish

Surprisingly they’re not true pipefish. Related, but ghost pipefish are in the Solenostomidae family and seahorse and pipefish in Sygnathidae, however they do fall under the wider Sygnathiformes order.

With true pipefish, the male broods the eggs either in a pouch or attached to a special patch on the skin. It’s the females that carry the eggs with ghost pipefish. There are other subtle differences and why in some places they’re known as false pipefish.

At the moment, there is 6 officially recognised species of ghost pipefish with more expected to be classified. Only one other species is found commonly around Phuket – the robust ghost pipefish. We have photos of some of the other species below and colour variations of ornate ghost pipefish below:

The hope the ocean currents will one day bring some of the other species to Phuket but for now we’re happy to have the most brightly coloured and ornate of the ghost pipefish family a regular visitor on our Phuket reefs.

Of course you’ll need the best guides to find them and fortunately we have plenty!

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By Justin Hartrey

I've been enjoying the incredible marine life in our oceans for over 25 years. 13 years ago I became a PADI professional, hoping to introduce as many people as possible to the incredible beauty of the seas.

Having been fortunate enough to dive all over south east and especially Thailand, I enjoy sharing my experience and passion on this blog.

Posted in Rare & Peculiar Critters on .

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