Please visit our Sponsors

Related FAQs: Seahorses & their RelativesSeahorses & their Relatives 2, Seahorse Identification, Seahorse Behavior, Seahorse Compatibility, Seahorse Selection, Seahorse Systems, Seahorse Systems 2, Seahorse Feeding, Seahorse DiseaseSeahorse Disease 2, Seahorse Reproduction,

Related Articles: Seahorse Care GuideColor in Hippocampus, Part I, by Pete Giwojna and Ben Giwojna Fresh to Brackish Water PipefishesSolenostomidae (Ghost Pipefishes)

/The Conscientious Aquarist

Of Leafy Dragons, Pipefishes, Seahorses;  Family Syngnathidae. Pipefishes, part 3

To: part I, part II,


By Bob Fenner


Siokunichthys nigrolineatus Dawson 1983, the Mushroom-coral Pipefish. Indonesia, Philippines. To 80 mm in length, but very thin. Found in close association (within tentacles) of Heliofungia corals. N. Sulawesi photos. 

Bigger PIX:
 The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available

Genus Trachyrhamphus:

Trachyrhamphus bioarctatus Double-ended or Bent stick Pipefish. To 40 cm. Multiple colors, but often dark brown and black mottled. Tiny caudal. Zooplankton feeder. Indo-W. Pacific, Red Sea, E. Africa. Here in Mauritius in 2016. One in Raja Ampat below.

Trachyrhamphus longirostris Sipadan 08. The double ended/headed pipefish. Uses its tail to wedge into sand to keep put during high currents... Likely related to caudal fin loss. The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

And Freshwater Seahorses: There are reports from time to time of "Hippocampus aimei" being a true freshwater seahorse. One of the two species now identified as this pseudonym, H. spinossimus is brackish... to marine. No freshwater Seahorses.

About Freshwater and Brackish Pipefishes. Yes there are some totally freshwater, and more likely brackish water species of pipes. 17 species (mainly the genus Microphis), Enneacampus spp. are known only from freshwater, 35 species are euryhaline (tolerant of less than marine conditions). Their captive care parallels their more marine kin. 

About Pipehorses: A combination of body plans, pipehorses

Acentronura breviperula Fraser-Brunner & Whitley 1949.
To 5 cm.; usually associated with debris, algae, and typically in pairs. Bali 2014.

An unidentified species of Pipehorse in Fiji


For seahorses, the eastern Pacific H. ingens is largest at some 14 inches stretched out, the smallest, H. bargibanti and H. zosterae are less than an inch tall in the saddle. Pipefishes range from a few inches to a foot and a half.

Selection: General to Specific

The picking out of good/healthy syngnathids is a matter of keen insight into what criteria to look for/avoid, and careful observation. Only over a period of time and study may you come to identify how full-bodied, alert, and undamaged suitable specimens are. What to select for, and how?

1) Time: is the great equalizer in many ways. You want to wait on just newly arrived individuals at your dealers, but not too long lest they starve there. At first, all may seem okay with a shipment, but like a few other groups of marine livestock, syngnathids occasionally "all just die" from "stress"; assuredly induced through holding/shipping. Wait a few days after arrival, and:

2) Make sure they're feeding... foods that you can/are culturing, or have been trained onto frozen, otherwise dead items you will use. Pay attention to the size of the foodstuffs taken. Here's my forecasting "plug" for selecting larger specimens; these will take concurrently larger food items.

3) Size matters, for two reasons. Larger, more mature individuals adapt much more readily to captive conditions; and "casting your vote" as a consumer of bigger ones goes a long way to discourage the practice of collecting immature animals. Those that have not been afforded the chances to reproduce. A reinforcing aside here: As you're probably aware, seahorses of this group in particular are collected in vast quantities as curios and for their supposed pharmacological properties. This practice has diminished their numbers appreciably in quite a few places around the world. For the small proportion of tube-mouthed fishes consumed in the trade, you can do your bit as a conscientious aquarist to only utilize them if/when you're ready, and then of appropriate size.

4) About netting: If you can, don't; instead use your net(s) to guide these fishes into a submerged specimen container or bag. Too often animals are lost due to intaking air, entanglement in mesh and body damage by being raised out of the water.

Environmental: Conditions


The bulk of syngnathids are near shore, shallow water species, living in and amongst benthic invertebrates, algae and rock. Seahorses require suitable anchorages and an absence of stinging life forms. Plastic plants, live algal material, gorgonian and Scleractinian skeletons are fine as "trees"; sea anemones, feeding corals and hydroids are out.


As touchy as they are, the tube-mouthed fishes are relatively tolerant of a wide range and rapid change in chemical and physical characteristics of their water. Standard conditions of 1.021-1.025 specific gravity and temperatures in the seventies-low eighties F. are fine for tropical species.


Must need be thorough and yet the means of circulating the water not too vigorous to dash these almost-planktonic organisms against the decor or such them onto the filter intakes. Old timey accounts suggest simple undergravel filtration as being sufficient. Modern systems rely on mechanical diffusion to spread the intake/outflow effects.


Aside from the very small species, the Syngnathidae must be housed in larger (tens of gallons) systems replete with adequate decor. In the wild these fishes live a cryptic, stealth lifestyle, concealing and ambushing their small prey, disguising themselves from predators in dense cover. For pipes and horses, you will need to supply rock, coral/skeletons, either plant-like algal material and/or plastic look-a-likes for hiding and attachment. For the seahorses, again, the use of anemones and aggressively stinging corals (e.g. Goniopora) is contraindicated.

Behavior: Territoriality


Due to their need for small foodstuffs and stable conditions, you should wait to place your Pipefishes and seahorses a few months after setting up/establishing your system. After quarantine, they are simply moved (without lifting into the air or using nets) via a specimen container, into the permanent display aquarium.

Predator/Prey Relations

For tube-mouthed fishes most anything that's small enough to inhale is fair game as a food item; this eliminates their tankmates as prey. Reciprocally, they're left well alone by their bony selves by most small fish species (mandarins, peaceful gobies...) used and useful to aquarists. Two mentions should be made however, for deleterious "predator" related concerns in keeping these fishes, incidental ingestion by cnidarians, and out-competition for foodstuffs by speedy cohabitants.

The first is a warning in placing these slow moving fishes in with aggressively stinging anemones and corals. Yes, they can easily be blown by currents into these and consumed or at least stung to death. The second matter gets back to Pipefishes and seahorses principal source of mortality; starvation. Without adequate food present during much of the day, they will starve. Keeping more outgoing predators of the same foods in their system may cause their demise.

Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation:

A chief preoccupation with keeping syngnathid fishes is mating, "spawning" and rearing of their young. Oddly enough, for such difficult fishes to keep, most species readily pair up and attempt reproduction if/when kept alive long enough.

Courtship involves a mutual interest between a male and female (distinguished by close examination of the formers "pouch" or other embryo-carrying mechanism), culminating in heightened coloration, a nuptial dance, transfer of eggs to the male where they are fertilized. By species, a set number of days later males "give birth" to free-swimming young.

At right a female and "pregnant" male Hippocampus hystrix in Mabul, Malaysia. 

You are referred to the bibliography below and The Breeders Registry in print or on the Internet especially for a review of the compendia on particulars of raising the young of the several species that have gone through generations in captivity. Such a daunting task involves even more aquariums and culture of microalgae and small zooplankters.

Seahorse culture tanks, Birch Aq., San Diego.


With their rigid exoskeletons, you can imagine syngnathids don't utilize body undulations for propulsion. For seahorses, getting about is mainly accomplished via dorsal and pectoral fin movements; for pipes, some waft their dorsals and anals, others virtually crawl along the bottom.


Besides having weird heads, eyes akin to chameleons, insect-like bodies, a lack of scales, ribs, teeth and stomach, what else is strange and unusual about the Syngnathidae?

Oh how about the fact that they can camouflage their bodies by growing extensions of their skin, including taking on algal growth and associated micro-life? Or that they can change their color to blend into the scenery or express emotion?

You know these fishes exercise male brooding; were you aware that they form very strong male-female pair bonds, particular couples staying monogamous for a season to life?

Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes

The number one reason given for lack of success with tube-mouthed fishes is starvation; a lack of foods and feeding leading to death from non-nutrition. Without a doubt, this is the single most important source of mortality of captive syngnathids.

The relatively few accounts of long-term success in keeping Pipefishes and their kin consistently relate the almost constant provision of a mix of live foods, or animals trained to accept proper sized non-live meaty alternatives by hand.

Gammarus, other isopods, amphipods, Mysid and other shrimps including Artemia, various livebearer young (mollies, platies, guppies, swords...) and more have been employed as prey/food items. In a perfect world some live material should be available throughout the day period as this is when these fishes forage and need sufficient food intake to maintain bulk, grow and reproduce.

My favorite set-ups for these provisions involve either a large adjunct co-tank called a refugium, and/or large un-crowded display aquariums with lots of live rock and possibly sand, producing copious food organisms on an ongoing basis.

A word of caution regarding coming to rely on live brine shrimp, Artemia salina as the sole or bulk of tube-mouth fishes diets. These shrimp are actually not a very complete source of nutrition, requiring soaking and/or feeding themselves to bolster their food value. Use LBS only occasionally or as a treat in addition to other accepted foodstuffs.

A further word admonishing the use of freshwater and sewage "worms" and insect larvae. Do your best to avoid Tubificids, bloodworms, et al.. These are poorly accepted by tube-mouthed fishes and tend to pollute your water on decomposing uneaten.

Until and unless you can train your livestock onto non-live foods, you may well have to become a proficient aquaculturist of their meals. Happily several types can be "home-grown" without too much trouble. Gammarids, Mysids and livebearers, among others may be purchased through local sources or mail order as starter cultures. Keep in mind the time and physical resources necessary to this food production in planning to keep syngnathids.


Training your syngnathid charges onto non-living foods (in addition to live, which they require forever) is time consuming, but often rewarding. In a large system, you might do well to make use of a large baster, mouth operated hard and soft plastic tubing "pipette" or long-handled tongs to proffer the intact item right in front of them. Some of my seahorse friends have put their charges in breeding trap arrangements to facilitate feeding and clean-up. your syngnathid charges onto non-living foods (in addition to live, which they require forever) is time consuming, but often rewarding. In a large system, you might do well to make use of a large baster, mouth operated hard and soft plastic tubing "pipette" or long-handled tongs to proffer the intact item right in front of them. Some of my seahorse friends have put their charges in breeding trap arrangements to facilitate feeding and clean-up.

I break with other writers on the issue of "hand feeding" per se; don't submerse your hands in the systems water! The danger of introducing pollution is not worth the perceived benefits or fun... if you must get involved in this way, I implore you, get and use dedicated full-length gloves each time.

Due to their finickiness for feeding, need for nutrition, you are definitely encouraged to make use of liquid food supplements/appetite stimulants with these animals. Soaking all food in these concentrated products can go a long way to bolster food value and acceptance. "Feeding the food" items themselves for example might involve the proscribed Selcon (tm) liquid for brine shrimp nauplii intended for juveniles or very small species, and the algae Isochrysis galbana for larger live filter-feeding crustaceans used for bigger animals.

Feeding strikes and changes in preference are the rule, rather than the exception with tube-mouth fishes; be observant, be flexible, but keep on trying, feeding a variety until the "meal du jour" is found.

Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social The most useful statement I can offer regarding these fishes disposition to normal or healthy conditions versus not is that Seahorses and Pipefishes display

 little immune-tolerance to poor handling and less-than-ideal environmental conditions. In other words, they die off mysteriously in the face of hobbyist abuse and neglect; therefore prevention must be foremost in your mind in their "treatment" for disease… i.e. prevention by good husbandry.

Tube-mouthed fishes of the family Syngnathidae are susceptible to the two standard parasitic disease banes of tropical marines, Amyloodinium and Cryptocaryon, as well as a couple of other common maladies. Seahorses in particular, if not damaged to death in collection, shipping and starving enroute to the end-user, fall prey to apparent fungal infections and a protozoan. The "fungal" (bacterial) infection is most prominent amongst challenged juveniles and post-shipped adults and manifests itself in whitish loose material originating and hanging off the fish's inter-ring body areas primarily. Scarratt (1996) lists success with treating young through immersion in a 10 percent Povidone iodine solution followed by a one-minute freshwater bath. Glugea heraldi is a protozoan parasite that manifests itself as boil-like lesions of about pinhead size. These small single-celled organisms are presumably contracted through incidental ingestion in the wild. In captivity they make their way into your system on/in new specimens and express themselves under stressful conditions to their host. Looking a lot like marine "ich", Cryptocaryoniasis, both are best "treated" by avoidance; that is, by selection of healthy, apparently uninfected individuals, and quarantine. At the very least new specimens should be run through a prophylactic freshwater dip on arrival. There are no demonstrated chemotherapeutics of value in treating for Glugea; copper solutions, malachite green, etc. have all proven ineffective, their use more harmful than beneficial. Infected individuals should be isolated and kept in a stable environment of elevated temperature (low 80's F. for most species) which has been shown to favor the host and destroy the parasite. Alternatively, and much more dangerous, dips, treatments with formalin/formaldehyde compounds may prove efficacious.   Close:

            To "journey again", the definition of reiterate, the principal considerations to keeping syngnathid fishes alive in captivity are selection of initially healthy livestock, constant adequate food, and a stable, non-competitive tankmate environment. Without careful provision of this triumvirate, you can expect the historically dismal success rate that aquarists have met with to date.

            Ideally, these fishes should be kept in a "species tank" featuring them as a/the highlighted "key species", a large refugium/sump and/or live rock/sand arrangement to provide plenty of living food items, replete with a lack of competing and stinging tankmates. These are definitely not "beginner fishes".  

Bibliography/Further Reading:  

Seahorse.org, www.seahorseaquaculture.com.au

Seahorse-talk-subscribe@yahoogroups.com (run by Neil Garrick-Maidment) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OceanRider/ (ocean rider's club) http://www.egroups.com/subscribe/Seahorses_Forever (run by some hobbyists)

Axelrod, Herbert R. Warren E. Burgess, Neal Pronek and Jerry G. Walls. 1990. Atlas of Aquarium Fishes Reference Books, v.2, Freshwater Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. NJ 1055pp.

Bellomy, Mildred D. 1969. Encyclopedia of Seahorses. T.F.H. Publications. NJ. 192pp.

Bellomy, Mildred D. 1073. Mixed-up Seahorses. Marine Aquarist 4(1):73.

Blasiola, George C. 1981. Boil diseases of Seahorses. FAMA 6/81.

Damien, Sorin. 1991. Breeding behavior of Syngnathus nigrolineatus. FAMA 9/91.

Davis, Martin. 1981. Seahorses. Aquariums Australia 2:2/81.

Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). Gulf Coast Research

            Laboratory, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 230pp.

Debelius, Helmut & Hans A. Baensch, 1994. Marine Atlas, v.1. MERGUS, Germany. 1215pp.

Denton, Bob. 1985. Tales of Seahorses, Brine Shrimp, Guppies and Amphipods. FAMA 7/85.

Donovan, Paul. 1996. Reef oddities: The Shrimpfishes. TFH 7/96.

Edmonds, Les. 1989. Pipefishes for the marine aquarium. TFH 8/89.

Emmens, C.W. 1983. Sea Horses. TFH 2/83.

Gartner, Otto. Undated. Successfully breeding the brackish water Pipefish (Syngnathus pulchellus). Aquarium Digest International #26.

Giwojna, Pete. 1996,7. Seahorse nutrition. Pts. I-V. FAMA 10/96-2/97.

Krechmer, Michael. 1993. Trumpetfishes: Aquarium oddities. TFH 3/93.

Kuiter, Rudie H. 1988. Notes on hatching and raising Seadragons. SeaScope v.5, Summer 88.  

Kuiter, Rudie H. 2000. Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives. A Comprehensive Guide to Syngnathiformes. TMC Publishing, Chorleyside, UK. 240 pp.

Leddo, Leslie: My photos can be seen in the following places if you would like to have a look: -The Syngnathid.org Species Galleries http://www.syngnathid.org/ubbthreads/PP/index.php, -The Syngnathid.org Member's Gallery http://www.syngnathid.org/ubbthreads/PP/index.php, -syngnathid.org in the rotation of photos on the main page www.syngnathid.org -Bob Goemans site http://www.saltcorner.com -www.oceanrider.com - Reefcentral's Reef Keeping Online magazine http://www.reefkeeping.com/ has accepted a series of my photos for use in their Reef Slides monthly column. -www.oceana.org and Gateway Learning Corporation also purchased one of my photos for educational purposes

Livingston, Jeffrey S. 1979. The use of malachite green on the Hawaiian Seahorse, Hippocampus kuda. FAMA 4/79.

Michael, Scott W. 1999. Seahorses. Step up and coral these sea beauties, We finish our survey of sea horses and their captive care. AFM 10,11/99.

Miller, R.L. 1979. Sea Horses TFH 3/79.

Myers, George S. 1979. A freshwater Sea Horse; Confirmation of its existence after a 25 year wait. TFH 6/79.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994 3d ed. Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, NY 600pp.

Pekar, J. & Rudolf Zukal. 1982. Breeding a freshwater Pipefish, Enneacampus ansorgii. TFH 7/82.

Perrine, Doug. 1995. Swim slowly, look closely. One of nature's strangest fishes might just be hiding nearby. Sea horsing around. Sport Diver May/June 95.

Scarratt, Alison M. 1996. Techniques for raising Lined Seahorses (Hippocampus erectus). Aquarium Frontiers 3(1):96.

Smith, Ron. 2000. The Pot-Bellied Seahorse: Captive breeding of Hippocampus abdominalis. TFH 10/2000.

Sprung, Julian. 1989. Hand fed horses. FAMA 3/89.

Stephens, Cleo. 1988. Those little horses of the sea. FAMA 5/88.

Stratton, Richard F. 1994. Trumpetfishes: Definitely different. TFH 12.94.

Strawn, Kirk. 1959. Life history of the Pigmy Seahorse, Hippocampus zosterae Jordan and Gilbert, at Cedar Key, Florida. TFH 10/59. Reprinted from Copeia 2/58.

The Breeder's Registry, P.O. Box 255373, Sacramento, California, 95865-5373, 916-487-3752, email fishxing@netcom.com.

Tzimoulis, Paul. 1978. The Sea Horse. FAMA 1/78.

Ulrich, Theresa & Carol E. Keen. 1999. Project Seahorse. A night at the Shedd Aquarium. FAMA 8/99.

Ulrich, Theresa & Carol E. Keen. 1999. Very simply Seahorses. Pts 1-3, FAMA 9,10,12/99.

Vincent, Amanda. 1994. The improbable Seahorse. National Geographic 10/94.

Vincent, Amanda. 1995. Update on Seahorses. SeaScope v.12, Summer 95.

Weiss, Harold A. 1978. Keeping and breeding fish: Freshwater Pipefish. Aquarium Digest International #20, 2(1978).

To: part I, part II,

Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: