Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory

Syngnathidae: <I>Hippocampus</I>

Syngnathidae: Hippocampus

Syngnathidae: <I>Heraldia</I>

Syngnathidae: Heraldia


Regional Maps

External Links

CAAB: 37282000


Pipefishes, Pipehorses, Seahorses

Compiler and date details

19 June 2017 - Dianne J. Bray, Douglass F. Hoese, John R. Paxton, Jennifer E. Gates, Matthew M. Lockett & Alice M. Clement

19 Feb 2015 - Dianne J. Bray, John R. Paxton, Jennifer E. Gates, Douglass F. Hoese & Alice M. Clement

John R. Paxton, Jennifer E. Gates, Douglass F. Hoese & Dianne J. Bray


More than 335 species of pipefishes and seahorses in 59 genera are currently recognised worldwide in the Syngnathidae (Eschmeyer 2014; Eschmeyer & Fong 2014). The Australian fauna is represented by approximately 125 species in 42 genera.

Pipefishes and seahorses are found in all shallow tropical and warm-temperate marine waters, with a few species entering fresh water and several species trawled in deeper shelf and upper slope waters. They typically feed on small crustaceans. The body is elongate and encased in a series of bony plates, with a small, toothless mouth at the end of a tubular snout. The dorsal and pectoral fins, and to a lesser extent the caudal fins, are usually well developed and are the main means of propulsion. Pelvic fins are absent and anal fins are small or absent, although all fins may be greatly reduced in a few forms. Males have a ventral pouch or specialised area on the underside of the trunk or tail where developing eggs are held. Seahorses differ from pipefishes in having the head at a 90° angle to the body and a prehensile tail that is used to cling to vegetation and other structures. Pipehorses also have a prehensile tail. They are popular aquarium fishes. Maximum length for the family exceeds 65 cm, but most species are much smaller. Wilson et al. (2003) studied sex roles and reproduction in seahorses and pipefishes. Mobley et al. (2011) provided an historical overview of how molecular techniques have increased the understanding of the ecology and evolution of the family Syngnathidae.

Because of their extensive use in commercial trade (Vincent 1996), syngnathids are increasingly being protected in some countries, with moves to breed various species in captivity (Vincent 1996; Lourie et al. 1999; Foster & Vincent 2004; Foster & Vincent 2005; Scales 2010). Conservation issues relevant to Australia are discussed in Pogonoski et al. (2002). Many species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, and all Australian species are Marine Listed under the EPBC Act 1999. Species of Hippocampus are listed on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Martin-Smith & Vincent (2006) discussed the exploitation and trade of Australian species.

The Syngnathidae have not been revised comprehensively worldwide. Dawson (1985) reviewed all of the Indo-Pacific pipefishes, based on a series of revisions that he and co-authors published between 1975 and 1985. Kuiter (2001) revised Australian species of the genus Hippocampus, and described nine new species. Kuiter (2008) treated syngnathid species found in southern Australia. Randall et al. (1997) and Allen & Erdmann (2012) treated many tropical species. Fritzsche (1984) discussed early life history of pipefishes and seahorses, and the larvae of some temperate Australian species are treated in Gomon & Neira (1998). Teske et al. (2004) hypothesized an Australian origin for the genus Hippocampus. The evolutionary origins and interrelationships of the group are discussed in Wilson & Orr (2011). Stiller et al. (2015) described a new species in the genus Phyllopteryx.

Kuiter (2000, 2009) published comprehensive popular books on syngnathids of the world, in which he made a number of nomenclatural changes. Although many of these changes may prove justified, they are not accepted here, except where those changes have become accepted by the taxonomic community. Many of the changes have not been documented in the scientific literature, except for those relating to seahorses (Kuiter 2001). Lourie & Randall (2003) disagreed with Kuiter's classification, and his classification also differs considerably from that of Paulus (1999).

There is considerable disagreement in the literature over the appropriate names and number of species of Hippocampus found in Australia. Kuiter (2001) revised Australian species in the genus, recognising 24 species in the region. Subsequently 3 additional species have been described and additional species found with 29 or 30 described species known from Australia (Kuiter 2009). Lourie et al. (2016) reduced the number to 20 species. In many cases genetic work has not been published on Australian species. Lourie et al. (2016) stressed that the species were their concept as they understood the species and accepted at least a 2% difference in DNA sequences to recognise species differences. Often they did not address the characters used by Kuiter (2001) and did not present detailed statistical analyses of their data. Consequently we have not been able to confirm their synonymies in all cases. We accept those synonymies where there is genetic evidence for synonymy, where Australian studies support the syonymies, or where the complexity prevents adequate separation of species at the present time. However, we retain species with apparently geographically isolated populations, or where the arguments for synonymy are considered unconvincing. Workers spending considerable time in the field, such as Allen & Erdmann (2012) have generally supported most of the species recognised by Kuiter (2001, 2009). Clearly additional work is needed before Australian species name stabilise.


Excluded Taxa

Other Excluded

SYNGNATHIDAE: Leptonotus blainvilleanus (Eydoux & Gervais, 1837) [recorded by McCulloch 1929 as thought to have been described from Australia, but species is found only on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America] — Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). Ocean Springs (Mississippi) : Gulf Coast Research Laboratory 230 pp. 293 figs pl. 1. [112]


General References

Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp.

CITES 2014. CITES-listed species database.

Dawson, C.E. 1985. Indo-Pacific Pipefishes (Red Sea to the Americas). Ocean Springs (Mississippi) : Gulf Coast Research Laboratory 230 pp. 293 figs pl. 1.

Eschmeyer, W.N. 2014. Catalog of Fishes. Online version updated 19 May 2014.

Eschmeyer, W.N. & Fong, J.D. 2014. Species of Fishes by family/subfamily. Catalog of Fishes. Online version updated 19 May 2014.

Foster, S.J. & Vincent, A.C.J. 2004. Life history and ecology of seahorses: implications for conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology 65: 1-61

Foster, S.J. & Vincent, A.C.J. 2005. Enhancing sustainability of the international trade in seahorses with a single minimum size limit. Conservation Biology 19: 1044-1050

Fritzsche, R.A. 1984. Gasterosteiformes: development and relationships. pp. 398-405 in Moser, H.G. et al. (eds). Ontogeny and Systematics of Fishes. American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Special Publication 1: 1-760

Gomon, M.F. & Neira, F.J. 1998. Syngnathidae: pipefishes and seahorses. pp. 122-131 in Neira, F.J., Miskiewicz, A.G. & Trnski, T. Larvae of temperate Australian fishes: laboratory guide for larval fish identification. Nedlands, Western Australia : University of Western Australia press 474 pp.

IUCN 2014. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species at.

Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Seahorses, Pipefishes and Their Relatives. Chorleywood, UK : TMC Publishing 240 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 2001. Revision of the Australian Seahorses of the genus Hippocampus (Syngnathiformes: Syngnathidae) with descriptions of nine new species. Records of the Australian Museum 53: 293-340

Kuiter, R.H. 2008. Syngnathidae. pp. 448-479 in Gomon, M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 2009. Seahorses and their relatives. Seaford, Australia : Aquatic Photographics pp. 331.

Lourie, S.A. 2016. Seahorses. A life-size guide to every species. Chicago : The Unversity of Chicago Press 160 pp.

Lourie, S.A., Pollom, R.A. & Foster, S.J. 2016. A global revision of the Seahorses Hippocampus Rafinesque 1810 (Actinopterygii: Syngnathiformes): Taxonomy and biogeography with recommendations for further research. Zootaxa 4146(1): 1–66

Lourie, S.A., Vincent, A.C.J. & Hall, H.J. 1999. Seahorses. An identification guide to the world's species and their conservation. Project Seahorse. x 214 pp.

Lourie, S.A. & Randall, J.E. 2003. A new pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus denise (Teleostei: Syngnathidae), from the Indo-Pacific. Zoological Studies 42(2): 284-291

Martin-Smith, K.M. & Vincent, A.C.J. 2006. Exploitation and trade of Australian seahorses, pipehorses, sea dragons and pipefishes (Family Syngnathidae). Oryx 40: 141-151

Mobley, K.B., Small, C.M. & Jones, A.G. 2011. The genetics and genomics of Syngnathidae: pipefishes, seahorses and seadragons. Journal of Fish Biology 78: 1624–1646

Paulus, T. 1999. Family Syngnathidae. pp. 2264-2276 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 4 pp. 2069-2790.

Paxton, J.R., Gates, J.E., Hoese, D.F. & Bray, D.J. 2006. Syngnathidae. pp. 810-846 in Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & Allen, G.R. Fishes. In, Beesley, P.L. & Wells, A. (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Vol. 35. Volume 35 Australia : ABRS & CSIRO Publishing Parts 1-3, 2178 pp. [810]

Pognoski, J.J., Pollard, D.A. & Paxton, J.R. 2002. Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Canberra : Environment Australia 375 pp.

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs.

Scales, H. 2010. Advances in the ecology, biogeography and conservation of seahorses (genus Hippocampus). Progress in Physical Geography April 2010: 1-19

Stiller, J., Wilson, N.G. & Rouse, G.W. 2015. A spectacular new species of seadragon (Syngnathidae). Royal Society Open Science 2: 140458

Teske, P.R., Cherry, M.I. & Matthee, C.A. 2004. The evolutionary history of seahorses (Syngnathidae: Hippocampus): molecular data suggest a West Pacific origin and two invasions of the Atlantic Ocean. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 30: 273–286

Teske, P.R., Cherry, M.I. & Matthee, C.A. 2004. The evolutionary history of seahorses (Syngnathidae: Hippocampus): molecular data suggest a West Pacific origin and two invasions of the Atlantic Ocean. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 30: 273–286

Vincent, A.C.J. 1996. The International Trade in Seahorses. Cambridge, UK : Traffic International 163 pp.

Wilson, A.B., Ahnesjö, –I., Vincent, A.C.J. & Meter, A. 2003. The dynamics of male brooding, mating patterns, and sex roles in pipefishes and seahorses (family Syngnathidae). Evolution 57: 1374-1386

Wilson, A.B. & Orr, J.W. 2011. The evolutionary origins of Syngnathidae: pipefishes and seahorses. Journal of Fish Biology 78(6): 1603–1623


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
27-Jul-2017 SYNGNATHIFORMES 12-Jan-2024 MODIFIED Dr Doug Hoese Dr Matthew Lockett
25-Jun-2015 SYNGNATHIFORMES 19-Feb-2015 MODIFIED Dr Dianne Bray (NMV) Dr Doug Hoese (AM) Dr Matthew Lockett (AM)
12-Feb-2010 (import)