The Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus Paradoxus) is perhaps one of the most photogenic species of reef fish and is regularly sought after by underwater photographers, both amateur and professional, for its unique body shape and vivid, highly varied colouration. The Ornate Ghost Pipefish can be extremely cryptic and difficult to spot, meaning that unless you have an incredibly good eye, or an experienced dive guide, your chances of identifying one on the reef can be quite slim.
What are Ornate Ghost Pipefish?
Ghost Pipefish, of which there are 6 identified species, are members of the order Syngnathiformes, which includes Seahorses and ‘True’ Pipefish, but unlike the True Pipefish, it is the female ghost pipefish which carries the brood rather than the male (hence it’s other common name the ‘false pipefish’). The ornate ghost pipefish can be further distinguished from the true pipefishes by the presence of pelvic fins, a prominent, spiny dorsal fin and star shaped plates on the skin.
It is believed that Ornate Ghost Pipefish have a one year life span, most of which consists of a pelagic larval phase where mcroscopic individuals float in the open sea feeding on plankton (and being fed on themselves). After approximately 9-10 months the larvae will have developed into an almost fully formed juvenile and will settle on the reef to begin its adult phase. Observation suggests that all individuals begin the adult phase as males (attaining a length of 7-8cm) and some, due to environmental and social cues, will later develop into females which can reach 11cm in length.
Juveniles can be distinguished from the adults by their large, wispy, transparent tail and dorsal fin with silvery white tips. As the individual matures, over days or weeks, the tails become smaller and more dense, eventually acquiring pigmentation.
Juvenile Ornate Ghost Pipefish showing transparent dorsal and tail fins
Where can I find Ornate Ghost Pipefish you ask? The adults of the species can be found hovering head down under rock overhangs or amongst the branches of gorgonions, black corals, crinoids, and soft corals from 5-30m depth, where they suck up small crustaceans with their pipette like mouths. They are most commonly found in male/female pairs, of which the female can be identified by her larger size and well developed ventral fins which are specialized to form a brood pouch. Less commonly they will be found in small groups or on their own.
A Male and Female Pair (Note larger size of Female)
Here at Scubafish we most regularly spot Ornate Ghost Pipefish at the Ko Haa archipelago from around December to February. Generally, once a breeding pair has settled you can expect to find them in the same place for their entire adult phase, sometimes up to 2-3 months (that is if they don’t get eaten first). Our dive-masters have a lot of experience with finding these amazing little animals and in most cases will be able to get you the Ornate Ghost Pipefish experience you’re looking for.
Please remember though, that while it can be extremely rewarding to get a good shot of such a unique animal, it should never be at the expense of the surrounding fauna. Practice good buoyancy and fin control whenever using a camera underwater and remember to respect the reef environment at all times.