News / Company News / Broad-banded Pipefish (Dunckerocampus boylei) (11/21/18)

Broad-banded Pipefish (Dunckerocampus boylei)

Species Spotlight - Broad-banded Pipefish (Dunckerocampus boylei)
Like a living candycane, Dunckerocampus boylei is a remarkable coral reef fish which seems as if it were plucked straight from the pages of Dr. Seuss, and theres no surer way to add a touch of whimsy to a reef aquarium than by including one or two of these crowd-pleasers.

Dunckerocampus is a bit of a tongue twister. The genus is named after the early 20th century ichthyologist Georg Duncker, who described many species from the pipefish family. Duncker was a man of varied taxonomic interests and named species from many other groups, both freshwater and saltwater, including the Epaulette Surgeonfish (Acanthurus nigricauda) and, most famously, the Harlequin Rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha).

Just seven species are known in the genus, most of which having a pattern of numerous contrasting bands along their attenuated bodies. For some, such as the Many-banded and Yellow Banded Pipefishes, D. multiannulatus and D. pessuliferus, the bands are numerous and quite thin, while, with one exception, the other taxa share a pattern comparable to that seen in D. boylei, the aptly named Broad-banded Pipefish. The lone exception to this is the rarely seen Red-stripe Pipefish (D. baldwini).

Its hard to say why there are so many of these banded pipefishes, as they are all likely doing very similar things in the wild. Three of the four are wide-ranging in the Pacific or Indo-Pacific, with the exception being the poorly known D. chapmani from New Caledonia. The Ringed and Naia Pipefishes, D. dactyliophorus and D. naia, could easily be confused with D. boylei, but differ in tending to have a yellower base coloration and white marking in the caudal fin. Both are reported from a range of habitats, from inshore reefs to outer drop-offs.

On the other hand, D. boylei is reported primarily from moderately deep outer reefs, indicating a possible ecological difference. All members of the group are typically found either singly or in mated pairs (though occasionally they can be seen in small groups), and it is recommended to keep them as such in captivity. Sexing is quite difficult in this group, with males reported to be a bit more squared off in their body profile. Of course, the best way to get a pair is to observe the manner in which two specimens interact with one another, either swimming in tandem or apart. Relative to the more commonly seen Doryrhamphus species, the Bluestripe Pipefishes, those in Dunckerocampus are fairly docile amongst themselves, but two males can still be quarrelsome.

If there is a downside to this group, its that they tend to be more sensitive than most to poor handling and thus have a questionable reputation when it comes to their relative heartiness. Well-acclimated specimens are, however, not much different in their care than any of the other sygnathids kept in aquariums. Owing to their large size (roughly six inches), they require a bit more feeding than some of their smaller cousins, and they can be picky about what foods are to their liking. Live copepods and other benthic crustaceans in a mature reef tank will be grazed heavily, and a steady diet of live baby brine shrimp can be helpful while weaning specimens onto a frozen diet. With patience, frozen copepods and similar foods should eventually be accepted.

This methodical feeding limits their suitability to only those systems which have similarly tranquil and lethargic tankmates. Alternatively, exceptionally large aquariums (measuring in the hundreds of gallons) will likely produce enough microcrustaceans to sustain one or two of these pipefishes, provided there isnt ample competition from dragonets, wrasses, etc. Another interesting source of nutrition for Dunckerocampus is their reported tendency to pick parasites from other reef fishes, though they arent likely to be of much use in controlling any of the common aquarium nuisances. This is likely why their gorgeous banded patterns appeared in the first place. Like a barbers pole, the stripes advertise their grooming services.