American Oceans

What Are the Different Types of Seahorses?

Sea horses are a fascinating creature that can be found in oceans all around the world. With their unique appearance and behavior, they have captured the attention of people for centuries.

a yellow thorny seahorse eating food

There are various species of sea horses, each with their own distinct features and adaptations.

In this article, we will explore the different types of sea horses and discover what makes them so special.

From the pygmy sea horse to the leafy sea dragon, we will delve into the world of these enchanting creatures and uncover the incredible diversity of life that exists in our oceans.

What Are Seahorses?

Seahorses are small fish that get their name from their distinctive head shape, miming a horse’s appearance. Not only are they a favorite sea creature, but aquariasts keep some species as pets.

These unique creatures breed differently than other fish. Female seahorses lay dozens to hundreds of eggs in a male seahorse’s pouch, typically on his abdomen. The males carry the young in the kangaroo-like pouch until the young are born.

Yellow Seahorse

a yellow seahorse underwater

Scientific Name: Hippocampus kuda
Other Names: Common seahorse, estuary seahorse, or spotted seahorse
Size: 6.6-11.8 inches
Distribution: Parts of Asia, Australia, Japan, Hawaii, and Africa

The yellow seahorse, also called the common seahorse, is a fish with a large, elongated body and no spines. Although closely related to other seahorse species, it’s distinguishable by its bright yellow body.

This slow-moving creature uses its elongated snout to suck in small crustaceans like shrimp. They typically live in mangrove roots, seagrass beds, or coral reefs in tropical and temperate waters.

Yellow seahorses are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, contributing to a decline in their population.

Lined Seahorse

a lined seahorse against a black background

Scientific Name: Hippocampus erectus
Other Names: Northern Seahorse
Size: 2 to 4 inches
Distribution: Parts of Canada, Venezuela, and the Atlantic bordering the US

Lined seahorses may be orange, gray, brown, yellow, red, or black. Aptly named, they have a distinctive pattern of white lines following the neck contour.

Like yellow seahorses, they feed on shrimp, amphipods, copepods, worms, and tiny snails. They spend time in vegetated areas like seagrass, mangroves, corals, or floating sargassum.

This seahorse species is one of the most commonly available captive-bred seahorses due to their hardiness and relatively easy care.

Dwarf Seahorse

a dwarf seahorse swimming near grass

Scientific Name: Hippocampus zosterae
Other Names: Little Seahorse
Size: 1 inch
Distribution: The Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast of Florida, and the Caribbean

Dwarf seahorses are tiny, only reaching a height of one inch. They’re the third smallest seahorse species worldwide and may be of various colors, including yellow, beige, or green, and have differing markings.

These small creatures are ambush predators that feed on small crustaceans, small fish, and small invertebrates. Because they don’t have teeth, they swallow their prey whole.

You can find them in seagrass beds off the Atlantic Coast of Florida, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. They’re also captively bred, though they require specialized care.

Pacific Seahorse

a pacific seahorse swimming underwater

Scientific Name: Hippocampus ingens
Other Names: Giant seahorse
Size: 1 foot
Distribution: The Pacific Ocean from Baja California to Chile, and off of San Diego

The Pacific seahorse, or giant seahorse, features a distinctive horse-like head with bodies covered in bony rings. However, this species reaches a foot in height, much larger than most species.

Pacific seahorses are bottom dwellers, feeding on small crustaceans, mysids, and other plankton. They often live in mangroves, rocky reefs, coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and sponges.

You can also own a Pacific seahorse, though they’re highly sought after for their rarity. This species is for specialist aquarists.

Bargibant’s Seahorse

a barbigants seahorse underwater

Scientific Name: Hippocampus bargibanti
Other Names: Pygmy Seahorse
Size: Less than 2 cm
Distribution: Indo-West Pacific: Japan to Queensland, Australia eastward to Vanuatu

Bargibant’s seahorses, or the pygmy seahorses, are exceptionally tiny, usually growing less than two centimeters, and live exclusively on fan corals. They have short snouts and irregular bulbous tubercles on their bodies.

There are two known colors for this species; one is a light grayish-purple with pink or red tubercles, and the other is yellow with orange tubercles.

They feed on tiny zooplankton that drifts past. Like other species, they don’t have a digestion system. Unlike other seahorses, male Bargibant’s seahorses use a pouch in their trunk, rather than the tail, to brood young. 

Big-Belly Seahorse

a big belly seahorse underwater

Scientific Name: Hippocampus abdominalis
Other Names: Pot-Bellied Seahorse
Size: Up to 14 inches long
Distribution: Australia and New Zealand

This species gets its name, big-belly or pot-bellied seahorse, from its large, swollen belly. Its various colors range from brown, gray, yellow, orange, white, or mottled, with dark spots on its head and truck.

Like other seahorses, this species feeds on small animals like crustaceans, shrimp, and other tiny creatures living amongst the seaweed. Each eye moves separately, making hunting for food and detecting predators easier.

They’re found in rocky reefs, grass beds, or attached to sponges. The male big-belly seahorse is distinctive due to its large brood pouch. Hippocampus abdominalis is another available aquarium species.

Tiger Tail Seahorse

a tiger tail seahorse on coral

Scientific Name: Hippocampus comes
Other Names: Tigertail Seahorse
Size: 6 inches
Distribution: Western Central Pacific: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines

The tiger-tail seahorse is a tropical species featuring dramatic yellow and black rings along its tail, hence its common name. 

They feed on small fish, shrimp, and plankton. Its natural habitats are coral reefs and subtidal aquatic beds. Unfortunately, this species is threatened by habitat loss due to overfishing and habitat destruction.

However, tiger-tail seahorses are famous among aquarists. They’re easy to breed and regularly reproduce if they require proper food and care conditions.

Knysna Seahorse

Scientific Name: Hippocampus capensis
Other Names: Cape Seahorse
Size: Up to 5 inches
Distribution: South Africa

The Knysna seahorse is native to South Africa and is the only species to inhibit estuaries exclusively. They’re medium-sized fish in the hippocampus genus with their characteristic short snout.

Knysna seahorses live in areas with high vegetation cover, at least 75% coverage, and use plants for shelter, including eelgrass, seaweed, sea grasses, and ditchgrass.  

You’ll only find this seahorse in brackish water habitats near South Africa. The limited range of this species puts it at a greater risk of extinction.

Spiny Seahorse

a spiny seahorse against a black background

Scientific Name: Hippocampus histrix
Other Names: Thorny Seahorse
Size: Up to 6.6 inches
Distribution: Indo-Pacific

Spiny or thorny seahorses have slender, elongated bodies covered entirely with sharp “thorns.” They live at depths between 6 and 20 meters but may also be found deeper.

They live on various substrates, including rocky reefs, sponges, soft corals, and seagrass beds. They feed on small crustaceans and zooplankton.

The spiny seahorse is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. They’re a common target for use in Chinese medicine and the aquarium trade. It’s believed that populations have declined by over 30% over the last 10-15 years.

Hedgehog Seahorse

a hedgehog seahorse laying on rocks

Scientific Name: Hippocampus spinosissimus
Other Names: Spiny Seahorse
Size: 4.9 inches
Distribution: Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam

The hedgehog seahorse is roughly 4.9 inches long with long snouts and low coronets. Juveniles tend to be spinier than adults, and they vary in color.

This species inhabits sandy substrates and reef systems up to 70 meters deep. They feed on small crustaceans, shrimps, and other plankton. They associate with sea stars, sea urchins, sponges, and other plants and animals to help with camouflage.

Overfishing is a significant threat to this species, as they’re one of the most heavily reported species in trade.

Zebra Seahorse

Scientific Name: Hippocampus zebra
Other Names: Hippocampus zebra
Size: 3 inches
Distribution: Northern Australia

Zebra seahorses are tropical fish with alternating zebra-like bands across the head and body with yellow tips on their spines. Unlike other species, the male carries eggs in a brood pouch under his tail.

Like other fish in the species, zebra seahorses are carnivorous and feed on small crustaceans, copepods, and shrimp. They enjoy living in shallow, weedy areas like eelgrass beds.Zebra seahorses are at risk due to the traditional Chinese medicine trade and the Curio trade, where seahorses are captured, left to die in the sun, and later sold as souvenirs.

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