As the research that I am doing looks at some of the strangest critters you can find in the ocean, it seems only right to give them a space on this blog. The little guy who kicks of the page is a little known pipefish: the “Winged Pipefish”.
While doing surveys on the Critters@Lembeh housereef, I found a large (15cm) Winged pipefish (Halicampus macrorhynchus) chilling out on a patch of rubble. I have seen this species a few times before on dives in Indonesia, and always liked it a lot, even if you don’t hear or read about them very often. Maybe I like them just because it’s less of an in your face – “take a picture of me now, I’m AWESOME” – kind of critter than some of the more popular ones, but they still manage to be pretty cool creatures. As with most other pipefishes, little is known about their life history and behaviour. Besides the original description, I found a grand total of 0 (=zero) scientific papers that focus on the ins and outs of this amazing fish…
So here is what we do know: The juveniles are beautiful, mimicking algae or bits of seagrass. The tiny juvies have got large appendages resembling wings, hence the name. The wings don’t serve many other purposes besides looks (more on that later). They can be found on sand or rubble, often in areas with a lot of plant debris or seagrass. I think they are cutest juvenile pipefish you can find, but they are a very rare find, in 12 years of diving I only ever managed to find a single one.
With age the wings appear to get smaller (they grow into them). In big adults the only things that can be seen are small skin flaps on the side. The adult pipefish still look quite amazing, and can display all kinds of colours, ranging from brown to yellow to pink. At this stage, they are more commonly found on coral rubble or coral reefs.
The biggest adults can get overgrown with algae and are extremely well camouflaged, like the one on the housereef. The big ones I’ve seen were always on coral rubble and looked kind of gritty and tough (as far as pipefishes can look tough).
For those if you interested in finding or photographing one of these guys, Winged Pipefish range from the Red Sea to as far as Hawaii and Panama. Look in rubble, sand or seagrass patches between 3m and 25m.
Oh, and the function of the skin flaps and wings? It is assumed that they help to break up the shape of the fish, making it even harder to find for predators or divers.