• syngnathidae;
  • cranial morphology;
  • snout elongation;
  • suction feeding


The long snout of pipefishes and seahorses (Syngnathidae, Gasterosteiformes) is formed as an elongation of the ethmoid region. This is in contrast to many other teleosts with elongate snouts (e.g., butterflyfishes) in which the snout is formed as an extension of the jaws. Syngnathid fishes perform very fast suction feeding, accomplished by powerful neurocranial elevation and hyoid retraction. Clearly, suction through a long and narrow tube and its hydrodynamic implications can be expected to require certain adaptations in the cranium, especially in musculoskeletal elements of the feeding apparatus. Not much is known about which skeletal elements actually support the snout and what the effect of elongation is on related structures. Here, we give a detailed morphological description of the cartilaginous and bony feeding apparatus in both juvenile and adult Syngnathus rostellatus and Hippocampus capensis. Our results are compared with previous morphological studies of a generalized teleost, Gasterosteus aculeatus. We found that the ethmoid region is elongated early during development, with the ethmoid plate, the hyosymplectic, and the basihyal cartilage being extended in the chondrocranium. In the juveniles of both species almost all bones are forming, although only as a very thin layer. The elongation of the vomeral, mesethmoid, quadrate, metapterygoid, symplectic, and preopercular bones is already present. Probably, because of the long and specialized parental care which releases advanced developmental stages from the brooding pouch, morphology of the feeding apparatus of juveniles is already very similar to that of the adults. We describe morphological features related to snout elongation that may be considered adaptations for suction feeding; e.g. the peculiar shape of the interhyal bone and its saddle-shaped articulation with the posterior ceratohyal bone might aid in explosive hyoid retraction by reducing the risk of hyoid dislocation. J. Morphol., 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.