While we are familiar with the state emblem of the weedy seadragon and sightings of the potbelly seahorse being the No.1 listed species on the Mornington Peninsula biodiversity audit via iNaturalist, little is known of the close cousin to the leafy seadragon.
The spiny pipehorse can grow up to half a metre in length, and while it resembles the weedy seadragon, it is lacking the leaf-like appendages, but has a similar method of carrying eggs under the tail. Normally restricted to deep water near the Australian mainland, true to the Australian Marine Life description, this species is rarely seen until washed ashore. The spiny pipehorse was discovered on Portsea back beach last month. At first, no one had any idea of its identity, given how rare the sightings are.
The spiny pipehorse is normally found in water depths of 270-300m, and while Bass Strait maximum depths are only 155m, we were fortunate enough to experience this incredible creature and discover more about it. The observation was added to iNaturalist biodiversity audit, where only 11 sightings world-wide have been noted and the first observation on the Mornington Peninsula. Other sightings have been in Queenscliff and Swan Bay, so while the spiny pipehorse is not officially noted on the Port Phillip Taxonomy Toolkit, it has been seen in the bay and makes it a very exciting possibility to be sighted in the water for divers and underwater enthusiasts.
In the water the spiny pipehorse is an attractively coloured species with a pink or orange body with yellow stripes and a red spot on the underside of the tail. In 2015 a world-first was made when scientists in Auckland successfully bred the spiny pipehorse in captivity.
The weedy seadragon carries around a brood of 130-200 eggs; the spiny pipehorse carries a smaller brood of about 50 eggs, despite being the largest member of the Syngnathidae family in Australia. Although somewhat similar to pipefishes in shape, pipehorses have prehensile tails which they use to cling to structures on the seafloor.
So if you’re out and about, keep a watch for these amazing creatures and take the time to document your observations of nature using iNaturalist. It’s a great way to learn about local species and connect to the natural environment.