Sexual selection theory predicts that mating competition in sex-role reversed animals acts more strongly on females than males and consequently females are expected to develop secondary sexual traits. However, in a sex-role reversed pipefish Corythoichthys haematopterus (family: Syngnathidae), only males develop an ornamental trait on the thorax, consisting of approx. 3–5 speckles alternated by lateral stripes of brilliant light blue and orange. To understand the function of this male ornament, we examined whether the presence of females affects the expression of this trait, and whether the expression of this trait depends on the male’s physical condition. Individual males were reared in a tank for a month in four different conditions: in high or low food supply and in the presence or absence of a female. After 1 mo, males in better condition expressed larger and deeper blue and yellow speckles, and males maintained with a female expressed larger and deeper blue speckles than solely reared males. These results indicated that the male ornament functions as a signal conveying information on the phenotypic quality of its holder and that females are potential receivers of this signal. Because C. haematopterus exhibits strict monogamy and competition for a mate occurs only among females, we concluded that the male ornament is not displayed in the context of mating competition but rather it is used as a cue for partner recognition to maintain pair bond.