Re:Seahorse? Clownfish? Pipefish? Together!

Pete Giwojna

Dear Zach:

Yes, sir – Hippocampus erectus seahorses, cultured black clowns (Amphiprion ocellaris), and the captive-bred-and-raised red banded pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactyliophorus) are all compatible and should get along splendidly together.

But if you intend to upgrade to a larger aquarium in the near future, Zach, then it would probably be best to wait until the bigger tank is well-established before you consider adding any of the pipefish. It’s always better to keep your aquarium under stocked and maintain a margin for error than it is to stock a given tank to its capacity. The pipefish can be messy eaters and the water quality can go downhill in a 20-gallon aquarium all too quickly. The new pipes are very gregarious and do best in pairs or small groups, so for best results, I would be patient for now and then give a pair of the red banded pipefish a try when you’re bigger tank is up and running, sir.

Ocean Rider’s new cultured banded pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactyliophorus) are very hardy and easier to feed than wild-caught pipes, and they certainly do make wonderful companions for Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus).

Once they have settled into a new aquarium, they will accept a variety of frozen foods and nonliving foods, but they are not dish trained. The food for them needs to be carefully dispersed or you can target feed the pipefish with a baster or something similar. As you know, seahorses are accustomed to plucking small invertebrates from the vegetation or the substrate, which is a feeding habit that makes it easy to train them to take frozen Mysis from a feeding station. But the pipefish are accustomed to plucking zooplankton suspended in the water column while they are swimming, and they therefore need to be target fed rather than coming to a feeding station, at least at first. They do readily accept small frozen Mysis or minced Mysis once they are accustomed to their surroundings and feel at home, but their food needs to be presented to them from above so that it drifts down right in front of their snouts, whereupon they will snatch it from the water column and dart around cleaning up the remaining pieces that drifts down.

However, several hobbyists that keep their red banded pipefish with their seahorses have reported that the pipes eventually learned to take frozen Mysis from the feeding station by following the seahorses’ example.

This is what I normally advise home hobbyists with regard to the new cultured pipefish, Zach:

<Open quote>

Red Banded Pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactyliophorus)

A new strain of hardy captive-bred-and-raised has finally arrived on the market in the United States! Ocean Rider has developed a beautiful line of cultured Red Banded Pipefish that are every bit as hardy and easy to breed as the ever-popular Mustangs and Sunbursts seahorses for which they are famous! That’s welcome news for hobbyists and seahorse lovers who have struggled with delicate wild-caught pipefish in the past that have long been regarded as suitable "for experts only" because they are so difficult to keep healthy in captivity. By comparison, Ocean Rider’s Red Banded Pipefish are accustomed to aquarium life and are very well adapted to captive conditions, thereby providing pathogen-free pipefish that are perfect companions for their High Health seahorses for the first time.

Ocean Rider’s Red Banded Pipefish are a new color variety of the common Banded Pipefish or Ringed Pipefish (D. dactyliophorus) and are even more beautiful than their ordinary black-banded relatives. Rather than the black bands or rings, the new strain of pipefish sport maroon bands or dark red rings instead, as their common name suggests.

Preferred Parameters (Water Conditions):

Water Temperature: 72°F to 78°F

pH: 8.1 to 8.4

Specific Gravity: 1.020 to 1.025

Ammonia: zero at all times

Nitrite: zero at all times

Nitrate: less than 20 ppm (optimal <10 ppm)

Maximum Size: up to 8 inches in total length; 3-5 inches is typical for new aquarium specimens, but they will continue to grow all of their lives.

Social or Territorial: highly social; does best in mated pairs or small groups of its own kind.

Breeding Habits: banded pipefish are livebearers that form mated pairs; they are pouch breeders (females attach their eggs to the brood patch on the underside of their mates and the males then carry the eggs and developing young until birth).

The Red Banded Pipefish is one of the highly prized reef pipefish or flagtail pipefish from the tropical IndoPacific. It is a relative of the seahorse with a very long, slender, cylindrical body that resembles a colorful pipe cleaner (hence the name pipefish). This species is boldly marked, with dark reddish to maroon vertical rings running the length of its body and a very striking flag-like tail that is used to propel it horizontally through the water. The tail is a bright red oval with a brilliant white margin all around and a distinctive yellow mark in the center that is often shaped like a cube or rectangle rather than a round dot. This brilliant tail fin makes the Red Banded Pipefish a faster, stronger swimmer than its seahorse cousins and it rarely comes in direct contact with the substrate. Unlike the slowpoke seahorse, which moves through the water vertically (head up and tail down) with a stately, dignified swimming style, the Red Banded Pipefish propels itself horizontally through the water like a torpedo with powerful strokes of its oar-like tail and sinuous body when swimming.

Feeding and Diet:

The Red Banded Pipefish is a carnivore that needs a meaty diet but it’s tiny, tubular mouth severely limits the size of the prey items it can consume. In the wild, its diet consists primarily of copepods and in the aquarium it will thrive in a well-established tank with lots of live rock and macroalgae that houses a large pod population. Hobbyists will find it convenient to supplement its diet with Nutramar Tigrio Bottled Live Copepods, which are an ideal food for this fastidious feeder. Over time, as it becomes accustomed to its new surroundings, the Red Banded Pipefish will be content eating nonliving food such as frozen CYCLOP-EEZE®, very small frozen Mysis, and Nutramar Ova.

When it comes to frozen food, stick with the smallest brands of frozen Mysis (e.g., Mini Mysis by H2O Life) and bars of frozen Cyclop-Eeze for best results. Bars of frozen Cyclop-Eze work especially well because they will shed copious amounts of the bite-size frozen cyclops. Brands of larger frozen Mysis can also be used for feeding the pipefish, and hobbyists tell me that their red banded pipes can even handle the jumbo Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta, looking a bit like a sword swallower in the process, as they gradually gulp down the king sized Mysis shrimp in several bites. But the brands of bigger frozen Mysis often work better after they have been minced or shaved. The frozen Mysis that works best for most hobbyists when minced is Hikari in frozen blocks rather than trays. The Hikari Mysis is much smaller than Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta and that makes it easier to shave off bite-sized pieces for the pipefish.

When it comes to shaving the Mysis, a technique that works well for many home hobbyists is to use a potato peeler to shave off bits of the Hikari Mysis from a frozen block, and then use a single edged razor blade to further mince the frozen bits the potato peeler has removed.

Small, frequent feedings are best. Try to feed your pipefish at least three times daily and be careful not to overfeed at any single feeding, especially with the frozen Cyclop-eeze, which tends to be messy because significant amounts of it go uneaten.

Aquarium Decor:

A well-planted "Fish-Only-with-Live-Rock" (FOWLR) seahorse setup or seahorse-safe reef tank is the ideal habitat for the Red Banded Pipefish. Plenty of live rock, lots of macroalgae, colorful artificial corals, or seahorse-safe soft corals are all very appropriate forms of decor. Is In the wild, these pipefish can be found swimming under rocky overhangs, corals, or close to the floor of its reef habitat, and in the aquarium they will appreciate live rock arrangements that form caves, arches, and overhanging ledges. (Pipefish will often swim upside down along the roof of a cave or overhang.)

In a tank with lots of live rock and a thriving pod population, you may sometimes see the red banded pipefish slithering along the bottom of the tank in a very serpentine fashion, as it hunts for copepods and amphipods and all the nooks and crannies in the rockwork.

And in an aquarium with tall plants and tall hitching posts, such as artificial gorgonians, the pipefish may adopt a vertical, tail-up, head-down microflora posture and sidle up alongside the branches of the plants or gorgonians in an effort to simulate their surroundings, the better to ambush unsuspecting prey.

So, depending on the aquascaping in your aquarium, you will see your pipefish displaying a number of different behaviors – crawling along the bottom, snakelike while hunting pods; orienting themselves alongside in amidst vertical structures in the tank, tail up and head downwards, hoping to ambush unsuspecting prey; in addition to darting about horizontally like miniature torpedoes when snatching prey from the water column with lightning speed.

Tank Conditions:

The Red Banded Pipefish is a tropical species that does best at water temperatures between 72°F-77°F. The Ph balance of the water should also be maintained between 8.1 and 8.4 as they prefer alkaline content of the water to be high (dKH 8-12). The specific gravity should be maintained ideally between 1.020-1.025. Strive to provide them with multiple cave-like structures or overhangs in a well-planted aquarium with lots of colorful macroalgae that simulates their natural habitat and provides shelter for abundant population of copepods and amphipods.

Compatible Tankmates:

Red Banded Pipefish born and raised at the High-Health Ocean Rider aquaculture facility make ideal companions for large tropical seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus). Otherwise, be sure to stick with seahorse-safe tankmates for your pipefish. Small, shy fish that are deliberate feeders such as small gobies, mandarins or dragonets, and firefish are best. Avoid aggressive, territorial fish and fast-moving fish that will outcompete the pipefish at feeding time. Seahorse-safe soft corals are fine but avoid anemones and stony corals with stinging tentacles.

Courtship and Breeding:

After an elaborate courtship dance, the female Red Banded Pipefish will attach her adhesive eggs to the flat area on the underside of the male’s trunk (known as the brood patch). Pairs of these pipefish will mate regularly in the aquarium if well fed and provided with optimum water quality. Unlike seahorses, it is not easy to determine gender in pipefish, but mature males typically have a flattened appearance due to the brood patch during the breeding season, while females are more round in circumference.

Like the seahorses, these pipefish are livebearers and give birth to independent babies that are miniature replicas of themselves, except that the newborn pipes are totally transparent. They look like glass splinters or tiny transparent threads. The newborns can be raised using the same techniques for rearing seahorse fry but the aquarist needs to be diligent and Johnny-on-the-spot when rescuing the babies or the aquarium residents will make short work of them. (Like black mollies and swordtails, some pipefish parents will cannibalize their young.)

Red Banded Pipefish are gregarious and this social species is best kept in mated pairs or groups of its own kind in an aquarium that is 30 gallons or larger.

Acclimation Procedures (make sure your aquarium is fully cycled!)

Please check that your basic water quality parameters are within acceptable range which are: Temperature range: 72°F-78°F, Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0, Nitrates 1-10ppm, pH 8.1-8.4, Specific gravity 1.022-1.025.

Acclimate your pipefish is slowly, just as you would acclimate seahorses, but do not take more than 30 minutes to complete the procedure. Open your box away from any bright lights. Check temperature and PH upon arrival in both the shipping water and in the tank. Turn off aquarium lights and follow this procedure :

1. Float the bag in your tank for about 10 minutes to equalize temperatures.
2. Partially open the bag and add 1 cup of tank water. (Do NOT aerate the shipping bag during acclimation)
3. Wait 10 minutes.
4. Remove 1 cup of water and add another cup of water from the tank.
5. Wait 10 minutes.
6. Repeat this procedure again.
7. Gently use your hand to transfer the seahorses or pipefish into the tank, discarding the water left in the bag.

<Close quote>

Okay, Zach, that’s the rundown on the new pipefish. The pipefish are ideal for home hobbyists that are breeding and raising seahorses, in particular, since they are already culturing copepods and/or hatching out baby brine shrimp on a daily basis, which makes it a simple matter to feed the pipefish with some of their excess baby brine shrimp every day. But otherwise, you should be prepared to target feed the pipes with suitably small frozen Mysis or with Cyclop-Eeze, as previously described, at least until they get the hang of snatching Mysis from the feeding station by copying your ponies.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Zach!

Happy Trails!

Pete Giwojna

America's Only Seahorse Aqua-Farm and One of Hawaii's Most Popular Attractions

Ocean Rider seahorse farm is a consistent Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award Winner and "Top 10 Things To Do" Kona, Hawaii attraction. Our "Magical Seahorse Tours" are educational and fun for the whole family.

Tour tickets are available for Purchase On-Line. Space is limited and subject to availability.

small seahorse Ocean Rider, Inc. is an Organic Hawaiian-Based Seahorse Aqua-Farm & Aquarium that Follows Strict Good Farming Practices in Raising Seahorses and Other Aquatic Life.

Seahorse Hawaii Foundation

Inspiring ocean awareness by saving the endangered seahorse and sea dragons around the world from extinction through conservation, research, propagation, and education.

Help us save the seahorse and the coral reefs they live in with a tax deductible contribution to the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation. You will be helping to protect and propagate over 25 species of endangered seahorses, sea dragons and friends.

Make A Tax-Deductible Donation Today!

A Different Kind of Farm (Video) »

Ocean Rider Kona Hawaii

Ocean Rider Kona Hawaii
Seahorse Aqua-Farm & Tours

73-4388 Ilikai Place

Kailua Kona, Hawaii 96740

Map & Directions


Contact Ocean Rider

Copyright ©1999-2023
All Rights Reserved | Ocean Rider Inc.

My Online Order Details

Purchase Policy

Site Terms and Conditions