Solegnathus spinosissimus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Solegnathus spinosissimus (Günther, 1870)
Common Name(s):
English Australian Spiny Pipehorse, Banded Pipehorse, Spiny Pipehorse, Spiny Seadragon
Solegnathus fasciatus Günther, 1880
Solegnathus robustus Whitley, 1941 ssp. naso
Taxonomic Source(s): Bleeker, P. 1860. Twaalfde bijdrage tot de kennis der vischfauna van Amboina. Acta Societatis Regiae Scientiarum Indo-Neêrlandicae 8(6): 1-4.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-01-01
Assessor(s): Pogonoski, J., Pollard, D., Paxton, J., Morgan, S. & Bartnik, S.
Reviewer(s): Martin-Smith, K. & Caldwell, I. (Syngnathid Red List Authority)

Although data exists regarding the catch and trade of Solegnathus spinosissimus, there is not enough information at present to estimate the effect of current exploitation rates on wild populations. More research is needed on population structure and size in order to assess how wild populations are impacted by the removal of individuals via fishing. In addition, understanding the impacts of exploitation require studies on the critical habitats for S. spinosissimus, as little or no research has focused on the critical habitats for this species (Pogonoski et al. 2002).


Previous assessment of this species was based on the 1994 IUCN Red List Categories and criteria version 2.3. This assessment was precautionary–and designated S. spinosissimus as Vulnerable (A1d+2d) based, in part, on preliminary observations of  the international trade of syngnathids for traditional medicines (Vincent 1996). Further research on the trade of pipefishes and pipehorses has,revealed, however, that while S. spinosissimus is part of the international and Australian domestic trade, it forms a lesser role compared to two congeners, S. dunckeri and S. hardwickii (Martin-Smith et al. 2003, Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006). Reassessment of S. spinosissimus using the 2001 IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria version 3.1 suggests that a designation of Data Deficient is more appropriate at this time, based on the dearth of available information regarding population size and structure. A listing of Data Deficient does not imply that the taxon is not threatened but that not enough information exists to quantify or even estimate extinction risk. Application of the category Data Deficient is a call for more research and scrutiny to be directed at this species. It is especially necessary to learn more about this species given that it forms part of the international dried syngnathid trade.


This species is caught as bycatch in the Australian trawl fishery (Bowles 2001), particularly the South East Trawl Fishery (AFMA 1999), and is also taken in crayfish pots set in deep water off eastern Northland, New Zealand (Ayling and Cox 1982). Some specimens enter trade after being caught and dried. Dried individuals are sold in domestic markets and exported to other countries (Pogonoski et al. 2002, Martin-Smith et al. 2003, Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006).


Although S. spinosissimus has historically made up a small proportion of the dried pipehorse trade (Martin-Smith and Vincent, 2006), the continued trade of Solegnathus species argues for more study to be conducted, as there is no way to link trade volumes with population dynamics. The gear choice in fisheries throughout the range of S. spinosissimus suggest the potential for population reduction due to mortality from bycatch - a strong argument that more research directed at many areas (such as taxonomy, population size and structure, habitat use, and potential threats) is a priority for this species.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

Solegnathus spinosissimus occurs in south-eastern Australia along the coasts of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania (May and Maxwell 1986) and also in New Zealand (Paulin et al. 1989). This species has also been recorded from off Brisbane (Queensland), and in South Australian waters (Gomon et al. 1994), although the South Australian specimen identifications have not been confirmed.

Museum Records from Australian Fish Collections (Pogonoski et al. 2002): there are 176 specimens (Standard Length 138-470 mm), trawled from depths of 2-640 m, ranging in geographical distribution from Caloundra (26°48’S), Queensland, southwards to Lune River (43°26’S), Tasmania. There are also records from New Zealand. Specimens were collected between circa 1885 and 2000.


Australian Marine Protected Areas in Which the Species Occurs (Pogonoski et al. 2002): this species possibly occurs in marine protected areas with suitable habitat along the coasts of Queensland, NSW and Victoria, but particularly Tasmania as they are known to occur in shallow waters in that State. New marine protected areas that were declared on 28 June 2007 (came into effect on 3 Sep 2007) where S. spinosissimus may occur are:

East Gippsland, Flinders, Freycinet, Huon, Tasman Fracture, Franklin, Boags, Apollo and Zeehan (see online map of the Commonwealth marine reserves in the south-east marine region of Australia)
Countries occurrence:
Australia (Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, Victoria); New Zealand
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Pacific – southwest
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There is little information available regarding the population size or dynamics of S. spinosissimus. A small-scale study of S. spinosissimus in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, Tasmania suggested that the species is rare/scarce and found in low abundance (Davey and Martin-Smith, unpub. data).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:


Solegnathus spinosissimus is most commonly taken by trawl in areas with muddy bottoms at depths of 29-232 m, but it occurs as shallow as 2-3 m in the Derwent & Huon Estuaries, Tasmania (Gomon et al. 1994, Davey and Martin-Smith, unpub. data). It is found in shallow waters in the southern part of its range where waters are shaded or are darkened by tannins. This species is often found over rubble substrates and near rich invertebrate platform reefs (Kuiter, 2000). It is sometimes found on beaches after storms and has occasionally been collected in depths up to 670 m. This species probably attaches itself to encrusting animal growths on deep rocky reefs (Ayling and Cox 1982). Divers in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Huon Estuary in Tasmania have observed S. spinosissimus holding on to sea whips at 10-15 m depth  (Edgar 1997,  Davey and Martin-Smith unpub. data). In this habitat, they probably rely on camouflage to avoid predators. In New Zealand, S. spinosissimus has been observed in Fiordland at 20-30 m attached to gorgonians or other habitat forming benthos (K. Miller pers. comm..)


Behaviour and Biology

The female attaches eggs to the underside of the male’s tail, just behind the anus, as pipehorses lack a brood pouch structure (Francis 1996). The male carries the eggs until they hatch (Francis 1996). Brood size is approx. 200 (Davey and Martin-Smith unpub. data). The young are benthic and have no pelagic stage (Kuiter 2000). Solegnathus spinosissimus anchor themselves to holdfasts such as seaweed or sea fans while feeding on planktonic crustaceans (Francis 1996).



Solegnathus spinosissimus attains a maximum length of 50 cm (Francis 1996). FishBase lists the maximum total length for S. spinosissimus as 49 cm (May and Maxwell 1986, as cited by Froese and Pauly 2007)


Critical Habitats

No critical habitats have been identified. It is likely that this species has specific habitat preferences, particularly for habitat forming benthos, that determine its abundance within its range, but little or no research has focused on the critical habitats for this species.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

There are no reports of targeted fisheries for S. spinosissimus, although specimens that are caught as bycatch in Australian trawl fisheries are dried and sold in domestic and international traditional medicine markets (Pogonoski et al. 2002, Martin-Smith et al. 2003, Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006) and domestic trade occurs at low volumes when compared to international trade. Trade records indicate that, between 1995 and 2001, a mean +/- standard deviation of 1,010 +/- 770 kg of pipehorses (identified as four Solegnathus species and perhaps some large pipefish species) were exported per year from Australia (Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006). These numbers are less than the cumulative total for Australian import cited from Hong Kong (870 +/- 480 kg yr-1) and Taiwan (470 +/- 340 kg yr-1) (Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006).

In September 1999, traditional medicine stores in Sydney (NSW) were selling an average sized dried specimen of S. spinosissimus for about $A 3.50 (C. Woodfield, pers. comm.). The origin (Australia or New Zealand) and method of capture (though probably trawled) of these individuals is unknown (Pogonoski et al. 2002, Martin-Smith et al. 2003, Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006), as is the nature of how they are distributed from collector to retailer.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Commercial fish and prawn trawling are potential threats to the survival of this species as they are taken as bycatch in these trawl and Danish seine fisheries (Ayling and Cox 1982, AFMA 1999, Bowles 2001, Pogonoski et al. 2002, Martin-Smith et al. 2003, Martin-Smith and Vincent 2006). Specimens caught as trawl bycatch will not likely survive if released due damage to internal organs that occurs when caught and brought to the surface, also termed prolapse (K. Graham, pers. comm.). Prolapse has been observed in animals brought to the surface from <5 m depth (Martin-Smith, unpub. data).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

In Australia, S. spinosissimus has been identified or protected under several pieces of legislation. All syngnathids are listed as Protected Aquatic Biota in Victoria, Australia and the Tasmanian Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995 prohibits the take of all syngnathids in Tasmania by non-permit holders, since September 1994 (Pogonoski et al. 2002). As well, all syngnathids became subject to the export controls of the Commonwealth Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 from 1 January 1998 (Pogonoski et al., 2002) All syngnathids and solenostomids were listed as marine species under s248 of the EPBC Act 1999 (Pogonoski et al. 2002).


This species is listed as Data Deficient by the Australian Society for Fish Biology (ASFB) in its 2001 Conservation Status of Australian Fishes document, the most recent AFSB listing available (ASFB 2007). In an Australian overview of the conservation status of threatened marine fishes, it was recommended that further research be conducted in order to accumulate information on the basic biological and population dynamics characteristics of this species (Pogonoski et al. 2002). In addition, the collection of accurate distributional and depth data was recommended in order to identify key habitats (Pogonoski et al. 2002).


Pogonoski et al. (2002) also suggest non-trawl protected areas within the range of S. spinosissimus. Non-trawl areas would protect some wild populations from possible bycatch threats. In addition, monitoring of bycatch from the trawl fisheries would allow for baseline data to be accumulated on abundances, distributions and habitats (Pogonoski et al. 2002). Marine protected areas established in Australia on 28 June 2007 contain benthic sanctuary zones that will allow for some protection of wild populations in addition to providing opportunities to collect baseline data.

Citation: Pogonoski, J., Pollard, D., Paxton, J., Morgan, S. & Bartnik, S. 2008. Solegnathus spinosissimus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T20318A9185671. . Downloaded on 26 September 2017.
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