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/The Conscientious Aquarist

Of Leafy Dragons, Pipefishes, Seahorses; Family Syngnathidae, pt. 1

Part 2

By Bob Fenner

Phallopteryx taeniolatus

Atlantic Trumpetfish, Aulostomus maculatus

Longsnout Seahorse, Hippocampus reidi

"Bizarre, non-fish-like, is that a living thing?" These are some of the more common statements folks make when encountering the tube-mouthed fishes, family Syngnathidae ("sin-nath-id-ee") for the first time. And they are indeed strange. Relying on cryptic coloring and body shapes, hiding in obscurity, propelled along with their undulating dorsal fins, they are the original "equal-sex" reproducers. Males celebratedly carry and "give birth" to young providing storage and protection for their developing progeny.

As captive specimens, Pipefishes, seahorses and Leafy Dragons have proven less than sterling in their longevity. The vast majority die within days of wild-collecting from poor handling, starvation, physical trauma and disease. Hence this warning; only undertake the care of these fishes knowingly, understanding their demanding requirements and low survivability.

The three requisite criteria for the successful maintenance of these fishes: selecting healthy stock, provision of adequate foodstuffs, in a stable, suitable environment. All to be revealed and detailed below.

Classification: Taxonomy, Relation With Other Groups

The Pipefishes and Seahorses, including the strange Sea or Leafy Dragons comprise the Family Syngnathidae, the aptly named tube-mouthed fishes.

According to Nelson (1994) the syngnathids form a larger group, the Superfamily Syngnathoidea with the another family sometimes labeled as seahorses as well as Ghost Pipefishes, the otherworldly family Solenostomidae (whose five species have the females brooding their young in pouches).

Solenostomus paradoxus,  the Harlequin Ghost Pipefish in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

 A notch higher in taxonomic schemes we find more fish families that are easily identifiable as tube-mouths; the Seamoths (Pegasidae), Trumpetfishes (Aulostomidae), Cornetfishes (Fistularidae), and virtual knife-like headstanders, the Shrimpfishes (Centriscidae). Unfortunately for aquarists, these related groups fare as poorly in captivity as the Pipefishes and Seahorses.

Aulostomus chinensis, Trumpetfish

Fistularia commersoni, Cornetfish

Aeoliscus strigatus, Shrimpfish

Some splitting-type classifiers break the family Syngnathidae itself into two or more sub-units; for Nelson, the subfamilies Syngnathinae (Pipefishes) and Hippocampinae (Seahorses and Seadragons, see below). Whichever way you splice them they are unmistakable; elongate bodies encased in hard bony ring series, small gill openings, a lack of pelvic fins and caudals, anals, dorsals and/or pectorals in some. The seahorses utilize their modified lower-body "tails" for "hitching up" as it were; and some pipes are so modified the virtually crawl along the bottom rather than swim.

Syngnathids are celebratedly "libbers" with the males rearing their eggs in a ventral brood area or pouch.

This diverse assemblage of two subfamilies includes 52 genera and about 215 described species.

Distribution

Most syngnathids are marines, but there are a few brackish (about 35 species) and even freshwater forms (maybe 17 species). The majority are found in shallow seas of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Species of Use/Availability to Aquarists:

At times, erratic and seasonal, a few species of pipes, horses and dragons make their way in to the marine livestock offerings. Although all are about the same non-hardiness, we will list the most commonly offered.

Seahorses Proper:

Hippocampus (meaning "horse caterpillar"), comprising the 35 species of seahorses, are collected for the aquarium trade principally out of the Indo-Pacific, mainly Indonesia and the Philippines; and to a lesser extent, the Caribbean.

Western Atlantics include H. reidi, the slender seahorse, H. erectus (frequently mislabeled as H. hudsonius and . punctulatus), the northern seahorse, and the dwarf H. zosterae of the shameful mail order trade of the past.

Hippocampus erectus Perry, 1810, the Lined Seahorse. To 19 cm. in height. Numerous lines on head, possibly down nape, body. Western Atlantic: Nova Scotia to Panama. Found in Zostera beds and on gorgonians, even floating Sargassum. SIO Aquarium and Jamaica photos.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
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The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Hippocampus reidi Ginsburg 1933, the Long Snout Seahorse (often sold in the hobby as "Brazilian"). Western Atlantic, North Carolina  to Rio/Brazil. To six inches in height. Variable in color... mostly warm colored individuals offered in the trade. Aquarium pix and Cozumel far right. 

Hippocampus zosterae Jordan & Gilbert, 1882, the Dwarf Seahorse. To 5 cm. in height. Very short snouts. Western Atlantic: Bermuda, southern Florida (USA), Bahamas and the entire Gulf of Mexico. Found in Zostera beds near shore. THE dwarf seahorse of past comic book fame... only lives a year. Aquarium images. 

Indo-Pacific Horses: The Yellow Seahorse, H. kuda is regularly offered in the trade out of the Indo-Pacific (rarely from Hawaii), especially the Philippines. Less seen are the tougher, mainly Japanese seahorses, H. japonicus and H. coronatus. If you can find them, a still hardier species out of Sri Lanka is the dark H. fuscus.

Hippocampus abdominalis Lesson 1827, the Big-Belly Seahorse. Southwest Pacific; Australia and New Zealand. To a foot in length. Now cultured in good numbers by OMLAS Pty Ltd (Seahorse Australia) in Tasmania for the aquarium trade. www.seahorseaquaculture.com.au

Aquarium pix.

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Hippocampus bargibanti Whitney 1970, the Pygmy Seahorse. Indo-West Pacific; Indonesia, New Guinea, New Caledonia. To 2 cm. in length. Only found on Muricella sp. Gorgonians that they match perfectly (only discovered after being found on collected sea fans!). N. Sulawesi photo of specimen about 1/4" tall, and S. Sulawesi of a gold variant of this species. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Country/
CountrySpecies Summary.cfm?Country=Indonesia&Genus= Hippocampus&Species=bargibanti

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Hippocampus barbouri Jordan & Richardson, 1908, Barbour's Seahorse. Western Central Pacific: southern Sulu Sea of the Philippines and Malaysia. To nearly six inches tall. White, brown, yellow w/ reddish dots. Radiating lines on snout. Popular spiny seahorse in aquarium trade and "Chinese medicine". Aquarium pic. 

Hippocampus capensis Boulenger 1900, the Knysna Seahorse. Southeast Atlantic; South Africa endemic. To three inches in height typically. Here is a juvenile of about an inch, in captivity at the Birch Aquarium, San Diego, CA. USA.

Hippocampus colemani Kuiter 2003, Coleman's Pygmy Seahorse. SW Pacific. (provisional assignment... aka "Pontohi's" Seahorse in Sulawesi.). May be a different species altogether. S. Sulawesi pic.  http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/species Summary.php?ID=61638&genusname= Hippocampus&speciesname=colemani

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Hippocampus denise Lourie & Randall 2003. Denise's Seahorse. To about an inch in length (stretched out). Western Pacific; Malaysia, N. Sulawesi, Micronesia. Found in association with seafans; Annella reticulata, Muricella sp., Echinogorgia sp.  http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Country/
CountrySpecies Summary.cfm?Country=
Indonesia&Genus= Hippocampus&Species=denise

   
Hippocampus histrix Kaup 1856, the Thorny or Spiny Seahorse. Indo-Pacific; East Africa to Hawai'i in shallow, sandy habitats, usually associated with macro-algae. Color variable; red, orange, yellow... long shout with white speckling. To 17 cm. in length. Common species in the pet-fish and traditional Chinese medicine interests. N. Sulawesi pix. 


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Hippocampus ingens Girard 1858, the Pacific Seahorse. Eastern Pacific; Southern California to Peru, including the Galapagos Islands. To a foot in height. Nocturnal. Found out and about during the night, feeding. Galapagos pix. http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/Species Summary.cfm?ID=3284&genusname= Hippocampus&speciesname=ingens


Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
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The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Hippocampus kuda Bleeker 1852, the Common or Spotted Seahorse. Indo-Pacific; Pakistan, India, to Hawai'i, Society Islands. To a foot in length (stretched out). Found in calm waters amongst algae, seagrass. N. Sulawesi images at right, captive ones below. 

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Hippocampus moluccensis, considered by Fishbase.org as a nomen nudum for H. kuda. To 6.5 inches. Variable in color, browns, black to warm pastels. Knobby crown on head, sometimes with filaments. Solitary on open sand settings N. Sulawesi image.

Hippocampus pontohi, the Pontohi's Seahorse. N. Sulawesi images.

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In Europe this assemblage is augmented by the common H. hippocampus, the regal Mediterranean seahorse, H. ramulosus and the short-snouted Hippocampus brevirostris.

Hippocampus guttulatus Cuvier 1829, the Long-Snouted Seahorse. Eastern Atlantic; British Isles to Morocco, Canary Islands. To six inches in length/height. SIO Aquarium photo. 

Sea Dragons:

Leafy Seadragons are infrequently offered from their restricted ranges around Australia (where they are protected by law); they have a notoriously poor record of survivability in shipping and short lives if at all in aquariums. If you must try them, the two species least prone to die in my opinion are the Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques and the common Seadragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus. These should be collected and attempted only as subadults, about half maximum size.

Phycodurus eques (Gunther 1865), the Leafy Seadragon. Southeastern Indian Ocean; South and Southwestern Australia. To fourteen inches in length.

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Phallopteryx taeniolatus (Lacepede 1804), the Common Seadragon. Indo-West Pacific;  southwestern Australia. To eighteen inches in length. 

 

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