The IUCN Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group focuses on a quirky group of families. We’re essentially interested in any fish that has a tube-like snout or male parental care, with a few notable exceptions.
Syngnathidae, our largest family, includes approximately 300 species of seahorses, pipefishes, and seadragons. Seahorses have evolved to swim upright in the water and make use of a prehensile tail to anchor themsleves to seagrass, corals, and other holdfasts. Pipefish and seahorses are found globally in tropical and temperate waters, feeding primarily on small crustaceans by sneaking up on them.
The Ghost Pipefishes (Solenostomidae)
Closely related to pipefishes and seahorses, the ghost pipefish are a much more ornate group that often dazzles SCUBA divers in the Indo-Pacific. They are extremely well-camouflaged, and tend to feed on small crustaceans using ambush tactics.
This family is made up of a group of small fishes that are armoured with bony spines and plates. They live in fresh, brackish, or salt water and are distributed throughout the northern hemisphere. Their spiny armour helps the males defend their nests, who will do so aggressively (some species actually turn red). They are a commonly researched model species in evolutionary biology as a result of their highly specialized mating systems.
The Armoured Sticklebacks (Indostomidae)
Armoured sticklebacks are even more armoured than regular sticklebacks. They are elongated fish and show similar male care for their nests. The three species that make up this family inhabit freshwater streams and swamps in Southeast Asia.
The Pegasidae are a group of small and interesting species inhabiting the Indo-Pacific. They have modified pelvic fins that resemble wings and allow them to ‘walk’ on the seabed. To feed they use their specialized mouths to suck out worms and other invertebrates from their burrows.
The Trumpetfishes (Aulostomidae)
This family consists of three species with trumpet-like mouths. Some of the largest species the SPS SG focuses on, these reef-dwelling creatures are distributed around the world in tropical and subtropical areas. They feed on other fish, and try to blend in with schooling species or seagrasses in order to ambush prey.
The snipefishes are an interesting group, consisting of about a dozen species that live in coastal or pelagic regions of tropical and temperate waters around the world. They feed on zooplankton and have the curious habit of swimming upright in the water column.
The Sand Eels (Hypoptychidae)
This family is only slightly less lonely than the Aulorhynchidae, with two species. Little is known about them. They inhabit the northwestern Pacific and tend to feed on zooplankton.
The Cornetfishes (Fistulariidae)
As the name implies, these fish are very similar to the trumpetfish, though a bit larger and longer. They are distributed globally around seawalls and coral reefs. Their main prey items include smaller fish, crustaceans and other zooplankton.
The Tubesnout (Aulorhynchidae)
The lack of an ‘s’ after tubesnout in this title is not a typo — there’s actually only one species in this family. Aulorhynchus flavidus is an elongated fish that is common on the Pacific coast of North America. It creates nests in kelp holdfasts, and males guard the eggs.