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Aug-06-2007 00:39printcomments

Male Fish Becomes a Mother at Seaside Aquarium

Male fish offspring
Photos courtesy: Tiffany Boothe
Photo of Tiffany courtesy: Andre' Hagestedt

(SEASIDE, Ore.) - This is one fish tale with a bit of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie twist. At the Seaside Aquarium, dozens of fish were born from what many will view as unlikely source: a male fish.

The aquarium’s recently acquired stock of bay pipefish yielded a surprise when they discovered one of them was very pregnant – the male fish was, that is.

Pipefish are long, rounded little creatures related to the sea horse, and it’s the males of the species who give birth. Their scientific name is Syngnathus Leptorhynchus, and the pregnant male in the aquarium has so far given birth to at least 25 of the tiny, sliver-like creatures.

For now, the little babies are on display, looking more like fish excrement than actual tots, about a half inch in length and the width of a thin blade of grass.

“We are not sure how long the baby pipefish will be on display,” said Tiffany Boothe, an education specialist with the Seaside Aquarium. “The aquarium has had pipefish in the past give birth, but because of their size and fragility when born, we have had no luck keeping them alive. We are going to try a slightly new tactic, though we are not too optimistic that it will work. Because of this we also plan on releasing some of the babies into a local estuary.”

The new tactics involve leaving them where they are this time, Boothe said. In the past, they’ve tried a variety of approaches to help these babies survive, mostly involving taking them out of this tank and putting them in another by themselves.

They’ve tried variations on that theme, such as a tank with filtered water, without filtered water, and other combinations.

“Instead of putting them in another tank, we’ll just do nothing,” Boothe said.

“We’ll leave them in there, ‘cause that tank is a lot like the environment they come from, with its fauna and so on. It’s also got raw water pumping in there, so there’s lots of phytoplankton.”

Pipefish live in shallow water among eelgrass, algae, and other types of vegetation in estuaries and embayment, Boothe said.

The female pipefish has the eggs originally, but transfers them to the male. He fertilizes them, and then is the one responsible for the gestation and giving birth – a concept that alone is bound to turn a few heads in the public.

“Spawning for pipefish begins in May when the female pipefish passes her eggs to the male,” Boothe said.

“The courtship between the male and female tends to be an elaborately choreographed display, where female and male entangle themselves around each other over and over again. They look as if they are dancing. The male may receive eggs from two to three different females and can carry up to 225 eggs.”

So far, only a little over 25 of these critters have been birthed by the male, but Boothe said they’re expecting more.

With the eggs of as many as three females involved, it could mean there are dozens more waiting to be born, all inside the male in various stages of gestation.

Tiffany Boothe of the
Seaside Aquarium

Boothe said about this time of year is when most of these creatures start giving birth.

“Once the eggs are transferred, the male pipefish fertilizes them,” she said. “He will carry the eggs in a specialized pouch located on the abdomen for a few months. Typically they birth in August. He gives live birth to fully developed and independent juvenile pipefish.”

Boothe said the babies are born able to feed themselves and don’t need any rearing.

Pipefish are about half an inch when born and feed on plankton. Adult pipefish can reach up to 13 inches.

Boothe said scientists aren’t sure how long pipefish live, and it’s possible they die after giving birth. Some theories indicate they could live about one to two years.

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