A Virtual Museum on the State's Fish Biodiversity
Syngnathus scovelli
Texas Pipefish
Credit: Joseph R. Tomelleri

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Syngnathidae (Pipefishes)
Syngnathus scovelli (Texas Pipefish)


All text below is derived from a January 2013 copy of Dr. Timothy Bonner's website at Texas State University. That content was derived primarily from published literature. We are aware of some conflicts with the museum record and the content below will evolve as the new, expanded UT and Texas State Fishes of Texas project team members are able to update it. We invite collaborations to improve and expand the species account content. Please contact us if you wish to help, or if you discover flaws in our species account content that you can address.

Type Locality

Shamrock Point, Corpus Christi, Texas (Evermann and Kendall 1896).


Etymology/Derivation of Scientific Name

Sygnathus: jaw together; scovelli: named in honor of Josiah T. Scovell who helped collect the original specimens (Ross 2001).



Siphostoma scovelli Evermann and Kendall 1896:113; Evermann 1899:309.

Sygnathus scovelli Cook 1959:36.



Maximum size:  183 mm SL (Dawson 1982), though most gulf pipefish rarely exceed 100 mm SL (Ross 2001).


Coloration: The body is uniformly brown or dark olive green, with vertical parallel silvery white bars along the sides. The bars may appear Y-shaped, and become wider and more bandlike along the tail. The underside of the snout may be unpigmented, and the snout may have an unpigmented stream middorsally. The rays of the anal and pectoral fins are outlined with melanophores. The dorsal and caudal fins are more densely pigmented (Ross 2001).


Teeth count:


Counts: 27-36 dorsal fin rays 15-17 trunk rings; 30-34 tail rings (Hubbs et al 1991). There are 32-33 (30-35) dorsal rays, 2 anal rays, 14 (12-15) pectoral rays (Ross 2001; adapted in part from Dawson 1982)


Body shape: Small, elongate (Ross 2001).


Mouth position: Has tiny jaws at the end of a tubular snout (Ross 2001).


External morphology: Snout short, 40 to 50 percent of head length; median trunk ridge terminates at anus; lateral tail ridge with a slight discontinuity and then an upward swing posteriorly (Hubbs et al 1991). The body is encased in bony rings and has a rounded caudal fin. The snout is short, pelvic fins are absent, and the anal fin is greatly reduced. (Ross 2001).


Distribution (Native and Introduced)

U.S. distribution: Found in coastal waters from Florida to Mexico; species may migrate considerable distances in coastal streams (Hubbs et al 1991).


Texas distribution:


Abundance/Conservation status (Federal, State, NGO)

Populations in the southern United States are currently stable (Warren et al. 2000).


Habitat Associations

Macrohabitat: Gulf pipefish are commonly found in shallow, highly vegetated, shoreline areas of clear, tannin-stained streams and rivers (Hellier 1967; Herald and Dawson 1972), and occurs often in estuarine sea grass beds (Joseph 1957; Brown-Peterson et al. 1993). In Texas, it has been reported in a reservoir 24 km inland (Viola 1992).





Spawning season: In most of its range, spawning can occur throughout the year (Hellier 1967; Begovas and Wallace 1987), though along the northern Gulf Coast, there is a winter decline in reproductive activity (Joseph 1957).


Spawning location: This fish breeds in fresh, brackish or highly saline water (Hellier 1967; Felly 1987).


Reproductive strategy: The male brood pouch forms at maturity and then remains developed for the remainder of the male's life (Ross 2001). Like other syngnathids, gulf pipefish have an elaborate courtship ritual, or "liebenspiel," which is initiated by the female. Display consists of the pair swimming vertically and bobbing to water surface, then intertwining of the bodies, and the male rubbing his brood pouch along the bottom (Joseph 1957).


Fecundity: Mature eggs are bright orange, oval to pear shaped, and average 1.3 mm in diameter (Begovac and Wallace 1988). A male may carry eggs in his brood pouch from more than one female, and the number of embryos in the brood pouch increases with male size (Herald 1959).


Age at maturation: In Lake Pontchartrain, the minimum adult size is 55 mm SL for males and 84 mm SL for females Fish may mature six months after hatching (Joseph 1957).




Longevity: Gulf pipefish generally live less than one year (Joseph 1957).


Food habits:  Feeding take place during the day, with most of the diet made up of small crustaceans: copepods, amphipods, tanaids, and isopods. Larger pipefish (50-89 mm SL) feed more on amphipods, crustacean eggs, ostracods, and caridean shrimp. Calanoid, cyclopoid, and harpacticois copepods are important food items of all size classes (Brook 1977; Tipton and Bell 1988).


Growth: Little is known about age and growth of gulf pipefish (Ross 2001).


Phylogeny and morphologically similar fishes

The gulf pipefish is most similar to the chain pipefish. It differs from it in having 16-17 (versus 19-20) trunk rings, 31 (versus 35-36) tail rings, and in having a shorter snout. The pipefishes can be distinguished from all other freshwater fishes by their lack of pelvic fins and by having their body encased in bony rings (Ross 2001).


Host Records



Commercial or Environmental Importance




Begovac, P. S., and R. A. Wallace. 1987. Ovary of the pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli. J. Morph. 193(2):117-134.

Begovac, P. S., and R. A. Wallace. 1988. Stages of oocyte development in the pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli. J. Morph. 197(3):353-369.

Brook, I. M. 1977. Trophic relationships in a seagrass community (Thalassia testudinum), in a Card Sound, Florida. Fish diets in relation to macrobenthic and cryptic faunal abundance. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 196(3):219-229.

Brown-Peterson, N., M. S. Peterson, D. A. Rydene, and R. W. Eames. 1993. Fish assemblages in natural versus well-established recolonized seagreass medows. Estuaries 16(2):177-189.

Cook, F. A. 1959. Freshwater fishes in Mississippi. Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, Jackson. 239 pp.

Dawson, C. E. 1972. Nektonic pipefishes (Syngnathidae) from the Gulf of Mexioc off Mississippi. Copeia 1972(4):844-848.

Dawson, C. E. 1982. The pipefishes (subfamily Doryrhamphinae and Syngnathinae), pp. 4-172. In: Fishes of the western North Atlantic. Pt. 8. J. E. Böhlke, ed. Memoir, Sears Foundation of Marine Research, Yale Univ., New Haven, Conn.

Evermann, B. W. 1899. Report on investigations by the U.S. Fish Commission in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, in 1897. Rept. U.S. Fish Comm. 24:287-310.

Evermann, B. W., and W. C. Kendall. 1896. Description of a new species of pipefish (Siphostoma scovelli) from Corpus Christi, Texas. Proc. U.S. Nat. Mus. 18(1043):113-115.

Felley, J. D. 1987. Nekton assemblages of three tributaries to the Calcasieu Estuary, Loisiana. Estuary. Estuaries 10(4):321-329.

Hellier, T. R., Jr., 1967. The fishes of the Santa Fe River system. Bull. Fla. State Mus. Biol. Ser. 2(1):1-46.

Herald, E. S. 1959. From pipefish to seahorse — a study of phylogenetic relationships. Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci., ser. 4, 29(13):465-473.

Hubbs, C., R. J. Edwards, and G. P. Garrett. 1991. An annotated checklist of the freshwater fishes of Texas, with keys to identification of species. Texas Journal of Science, Supplement 43(4):1-56.

Joseph, E. B. 1957. A study of the systematics and life history of the gulf pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli (Evermann and Kendall). Ph.D. diss., Florida State Univ., Tallahassee.

Ross, S. T. 2001. The Inland Fishes of Mississippi. University Press of Mississippi 624 pp.

Tipton, K., and S. S. Bell. 1988. Foraging patterns of two sygnathid fishes: importance of harpacticoid copepods. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 47:31-43.

Viola, T. L. 1992. Occurrence of gulf pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli, in a freshwater Texas reservoir. Tex. J. Sci. 44(3):361.

Warren, L. W., Jr., B. M. Burr, S. J. Walsh, H. L. Bart, Jr., R. C. Cashner, D. A. Etnier, B. J. Freeman, B. R. Kuhajda, R. L. Mayden, H. W. Robison, S. T. Ross, and W. C. Starnes. 2000. Diversity, Distribution, and Conservation status of the native freshwater fishes of the southern United States. Fisheries 25(10):7-29.


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Syngnathus scovelli Illustration
Credit: Joseph R. Tomelleri
Credit: Chad Thomas, Texas State University
Credit: Garold W. Sneegas