Jazzin’ Instrumentals: Yellow-banded Pipefish
Looking ready to toot in his bold zoot suit, the yellow-banded pipefish is really a stay-at-home dad. In fact, he gave birth to about 40 young earlier this week.
Pipefishes are fascinating because they are the exceptions to so many rules. Take their reproductive role reversal: The female courts the male, engaging him in a spiraling courtship dance that ends with her laying her eggs on his brood patch, an area mid-tail that puffs up and becomes spongy to allow eggs to stick. He only relinquishes his maternal responsibilities when the eggs hatch. The babies, no more than half an inch long, are perfect miniature pipefish and totally independent. (Our new pipefish babies were moved to a small reserve habitat and are being fed the tiniest live foods that we raise—rotifers, copepods and brine shrimp larvae.)
Like young musicians who hate to practice, pipefish have no use for scales. Beneath their smooth skin they are encased in a protective cage of bonelike rings. This skeletal body armor is another characteristic of the extended seahorse family and accounts for these fishes’ rigid posture. Instead of the fluid, rippling body movements of more traditional fishes, most of the action is in the nearly invisible dorsal and pectoral fins. Pipefishes might not sway a lot, but they still swing when they swim—from horizontal to vertical back to horizontal, and even in reverse—by oscillating their delicate fins. They can also hover in the water.
A pipefish’s slender body allows it to poke around and hide in a tangle of seaweed or the crevices of a coral reef, and those light and dark bands, called disruptive coloration, break up the outline of its body, confusing predators.
Another unique family trait is the tubular, or pipelike, toothless mouth. Using it like a straw, a pipefish can suck in tiny planktonic animals. At Shedd, the yellow-banded pipefish is fed frozen mysis shrimp (his favorite food) and krill twice a day, and he can also hunt tiny live food that is poured into the habitat for the fishes to enjoy.
During Jazzin’ at the Shedd, be sure to visit the seahorse exhibit, between Oceans and Local Waters in the Waters of the World galleries, to see the yellow-banded pipefish along with three other pipefish species—banded, Jans’s and blue stripe. They make a vibrant quartet.
Jazzin’ at the Shedd is sponsored by Bank of America.
In the ocean, marine life resembles a perfectly tuned jazz band. Each plant and animal species has a unique note to play; together they form an extraordinarily beautiful, complex arrangement. At Shedd, our conservation and research programs work to keep the music playing without missing a note.
Karen Furnweger, web editor