How To Pick Your First Seahorse: 12 Common Seahorse Species Explored

By: | Date: 01/18/2015 | 9 Comments |
Three Seahorse Species

Any number of species of seahorses can be suitable for the right aquarium. Left to right: Hippocampus erectus, Hippocampus barbouri, Hippocampus reidi

I’m often asked which species of seahorse aquarists should get for their first aquarium. This question may sound simple enough, but different species behave differently and have varying levels of care required.

I’ve put together a list of the most commonly available species, their difficulty level and some additional notes. This is assuming captive bred seahorses from a reputable source; wild caught seahorses or tank raised seahorses from fish stores are a much bigger gamble. And the difficulty scale is relative; an easy seahorse is still going to be more challenging  to keep than a truly easy to keep marine fish such as clownfish.

1. Lined Seahorse Hippocampus erectus

Orange seahorses hippocampus erectus in aquarium

A beautiful pair of Lined Seahorses H. erectus owned by Cindy Whipple

The Bullet Proof Seahorse; all seahorses have special needs, but these are considered one of the easiest seahorse species to start with. They are hardy, easy to feed and very outgoing. They have the widest range of colors in captive seahorses. Many people consider them drab because they often choose brown or grey in the home aquarium. BUT! They tend to base their color on their surroundings, favorite hitching post or even each other. For many people that can mean dull color to go with dull decor. Colors they can produce include green, brown, yellow, white, grey, orange, pink and red. They interact with the aquarist and are a very active, social species.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Max Size: 8″ (~20cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty: intermediate, can start with brine shrimp.
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons a pair
  • Temperature: 68F-72F (20-22C)
  • Availability:  UK, US, EU
  • Caution: In the US, wild caught H. erectus are often on the market, sometimes mislabeled as tank raised.

2. Brazilian Seahorse Hippocampus reidi

Yellow male Brazilian seahorse

A male Brazilian seahorse. Photo by Cliff Nostri Imago

Hippocampus reidi are next on the list in both popularity and ease. They are highly sought after due to bright yellow, oranges, and reds but can be found in blacks, whites, and greys. They are a large seahorses. The do tend to be a bit more standoffish than H. erectus, and not quite as overly “flirty”, more likely to stay pair bonded in the aquarium.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Max Size: 8″ (~20cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Difficult, need appropriate copepods at birth
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons a pair
  • Temperature:  70-74F (21-23C)
  • Availability:  US, UK, EU
  • Caution:  Wild caught adults are sold around the world. Many are inappropriately sold as “Giant Reidi” or “Giant Brazilians”, and presented  as a different species from their captive bred counterparts. Some hobbyists report being told they are either captive bred or trained to frozen with both turning out to be false. The wild caught seahorses have a high mortality rate.

3. Yellow Seahorse Hippocampus kuda

Medium seahorse, tends to be rather shy. May need some coaxing to eat. Tends to be neutral colored, Yellows but more commonly greys, cream, brown. Frequently reported to avoid interaction with humans and “hide” when they are being observed.

  • Difficulty:  Intermediate
  • Max Size:  6″ (~15cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Easy, hitches at birth, can be feed enriched brine shrimp.
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons a pair
  • Temperature:  70-74F (21-23C)
  • Availability:  AU, EU, UK
  • Caution:  Often found as tank raised individuals from questionable sources with the species in question due to their similarity to H. taeniopterus.  H. kuda is also often the generic name for seahorses when the identification is unknown.

4. Yellow Seahorse Hippocampus taeniopterus (Hippocampus kuda)

Female Seahorse Hippocampus Kuda

Hippocampus taeniopterus is a great aquarium specimen. Photo by Shelley Stevenson

This is a large seahorse, very similar in shape to H. reidi. They behave much like H. reidi and are gregarious, active seahorses. Common coloration: yellow with orange dots. Commonly  be solid yellow, yellow with black or white/light or all black.

Their is some debate whether this is distinct from H. kuda above, but much evidence, including size and behavior of young, suggests they are different.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Max Size:  8″  (~20cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Difficult, need appropriate copepods at birth.
  • Minimum Tank Size:  40 gallons a pair
  • Temperature:  70-74F (21-23C)
  • Availability:  AU, EU, UK, US
  • Caution:  Frequently sold in stores from questionable sources and too young. Often misidentified as H. kuda, if they are different species.

5. Sea Pony Hippocampus fuscus

Smaller species, up to 5 inches. Tends to be rather drab in coloration, though some will be bright yellow, and some black. Hard can be hard to find in captivity. Can be kept in a somewhat smaller aquarium than other commonly available species. Not a very active species. There availability fluctuates, and they’ve stopped breeding for many people.

  • Difficulty:  Intermediate
  • Max Size:  5″  (~15cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Easy, hitches at birth, can be feed enriched brine shrimp.
  • Minimum Tank Size:  20 gallons a pair
  • Temperature:  70-74F (21-23C)
  • Availability:  EU, UK
  • Caution:  A number of people have reported they stop breeding after a while, and thus the disappearance from the US.

6. Tiger Tail Seahorse Hippocampus comes

Tiger tail seahorse with black and yellow tail

Tiger Tail seahorse, Hippocampus comes, showing the distinctive tail coloration that earned this species it’s name. Photo courtesy of Debby Ng

Named after their striped tails, this species is delicate and understated. Has finer features, with a thin snout and low coronet. Not all show the characteristic yellow and black coloration, but when they do, they are just stunning. Colors can be black, black and white, cream, yellow, cream and yellow. Shy, tend to be wary of the aquarist. Really strong, probably due to its natural habit of coral reefs. Tends to actively avoid observation by humans, and shy away when being watched.

  • Difficulty:  Intermediate
  • Max Size:  7″ (~18cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Difficult, young require appropriate copepods at birth
  • Minimum Tank Size:  30 gallons a pair
  • Temperature:  70-74F (21-23C)
  • Availability:  EU, UK, US
  • Caution:  Frequently don’t like to chase down food, so may need to be target fed. Especially males. Often sold too small from overseas breeders, and these too small juveniles fair poorly in captivity.

7. Zebra Snout Seahorse Hippocampus barbouri

Zebra Snout Seahorse and Mushroom Corals

Zebra Snout Seahorse Hippocampus barbouri, a beautiful seahorse but one that frequently does poor in captivity.

A cautious but beautiful seahorse. Colors range from bright orange to white, with most being a ruddy yellow. Beautiful stripping on the face. Fairly high demand species but with rather low success rates in captivity. One of the bigger problems face is that they are not very active when feeding, the food often has to drift past at close range, slowly. Unlike some of the shy species, these don’t seem to avoid interactions with people, but do tend to be indifferent to it.

  • Difficulty:  Difficult
  • Max Size: 6″ (~20cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Difficult, young require appropriate copepods at birth
  • Minimum Tank Size:  30 gallons a pair
  • Temperature:  70-74F (21-23C)
  • Availability:  AU, EU, UK, US
  • Caution:  Fussy eaters. Many people have expressed trouble keeping them in the long term. Often  available as wild caught as well, and not clearly labeled, complicating the issue.

8. Dwarf Seahorse  Hippocampus zosterae

Dwarf seahorses hitched to caulerpa

Dwarf seahorses hiding in caulerpa. Photo by Will Thomas.

These guys are adorable at barely over an inch in size, and can be kept in small aquariums. In fact, they do best when kept in smaller aquariums because it allows for concentrating food around them. The downside is that they need live food, and they need a lot. They need enriched baby brine shrimp, and do best with a variety of foods, such as copepods. Aquariums need to be set up so that they aren’t harmed by intakes an overflows; a much hard task with such a small seahorse. The good news is that you don’t need to do anything special to raise the young; they can inhabit the same aquarium and eat the same foods as the adults. Read more about the requirements for  keeping dwarf seahorses.

  • Difficulty:  Intermediate
  • Max Size: 2″ (~5cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Easy, young hitch at birth and can be fed brine shrimp.
  • Minimum Tank Size:  5 gallons for a group
  • Temperature:  68-74F (20-23C)
  • Availability:  EU, UK, US
  • Caution:  Must be feed live foods, which means at a minimum hatching and enriching artemia on a daily basis. Aquarium must be set up to protect intakes from harming this small species. Available cheaply in the US, so many people purchase them without understanding the full amount of work

9. Pacific Giant Seahorse Hippocampus ingens

Hippocampus Ingens Giant Pacific Seahorse

The Giant Pacific Seahorses is among the largest seahorses in the world. Photo by Jill Siegrist

Large species of seahorse, very similar to H. reidi in form and coloration. A subtropical seahorse from the pacific, found on the west coast, possibly as far north as California. Outgoing, active seahorse. But very difficult to keep successfully. Prone to bacterial illnesses that tend to then infect any other syngnathid inhabitants.

  • Difficulty:  Difficult
  • Max Size:  12″ (~30cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Difficult, young require copepods and enriched rotifers at birth.
  • Minimum Tank Size:  50 gallons for a pair
  • Temperature:  68-74F (20-23C)
  • Difficulty:  Difficult
  • Availability:  EU, MX, UK, US
  • Caution:  Often sold as a tropical seahorse, but much of the water they inhabit is actually subtropical. They seem to do best for most aquarists around 68-70F. This species is also one that almost always needs to be kept with it’s own kind only.

10. Tiger Snout Seahorse Hippocampus subelongatus

Often mislabeled as H. angustus

Hippocampus subelongatus, TIger Snout Seahorse on a reef

Hippocampus subelongatus is frequently available in Australia. Unfortunately these are usually wild caught and do not fair well in captivity. Photo by Claire Ross

A large, subtropical seahorse. Often available wild caught in Australia. Can be a wide range of colors. They tend to be very gregarious and interactive with each other and their owners. Conflicting reports on how they fair in captivity. This is likely due to those available being wild-caught. Many are starved before they make it into the hands of aquarists, and don’t convert over to non-living foods. Those that do though tend to fair pretty well if temperatures are kept cool enough and fed well enough.

  • Difficulty:  Difficult
  • Max Size: 8″ (~20cm)
  • Breeding Difficulty:  Difficult, young require copepods and enriched rotifers at birth.
  • Minimum Tank Size:  40 gallons per pair
  • Temperature:  68-72F (20-22C)
  • Availability:  AU
  • Caution:  This species is taken from the wild. Because of significant losses with wild caught seahorses, I strongly advise against purchasing this species. If you do opt for this species, going through and deworming the seahorses is advised. Included here because of how common this species is in Australia.

11. Pot Belly Seahorse Hippocampus abdominalis

Pot-Belly Seahorse in aquarium

Pot-Belly Seahorses are very large, cold water seahorses that need a large aquarium with a chiller. Photo by Nathan Rupert

The biggest of the seahorses. These guys are charming, outgoing, and big flirts. They need a big aquarium though, and need to be kept in cool water. They are also clowns, and don’t pair bond like most other seahorses, meaning the can get flirtatious with all the inhabitants in the aquarium. Females fight for the attention of males. Be warned, this species can have some of the most numerous broods. They have a giant brood pouch as well that can inflate like a balloon during courtship.

  • Difficulty:  Difficult

Max Size: 14″ (~36cm)

  • Breeding Difficulty:  Easy, young hitch at birth and can be fed brine shrimp.
  • Minimum Tank Size:  60 gallons per pair
  • Temperature:  55-65F (13-18C)
  • Availability:  AU, EU, UK, US
  • Caution:  Must have a chiller to keep the aquarium appropriately cool. I’ve seen it advised they can be kept in tropical aquariums, and for very short terms it can work, but over the long haul they will get sick and perish if kept in warmer aquariums.

12. H. kelloggi

H. kelloggi in the hobby are rarely actually H. kelloggi. I included them in this list as there are tank raised seahorses from overseas frequently mislabeled as H. kelloggi and they can be a number of species. Most fair poorly, I would advise staying away from any “H. kelloggi“ you find.

Remember, always buy captive bred; and if possible, get directly from a breeder to limit the risks both in accurate identification and eliminating the risk from sometimes inadequate care. I strongly recommend looking at A Modern Guide to Buying Seahorses for more information on picking your seahorse.

With all these choices, which species would I personally recommend? It would absolutely be H. erectus. It’s one of the easiest, most robust species available to the hobbyist, and has a wide range of colors they can change between. All seahorses have their challenges, but this one seems to do the best and be the most flexible when there are errors. And if the aquarist wants to get into breeding at some point, they’re a pretty easy seahorse to raise.

9 Responses to “How To Pick Your First Seahorse: 12 Common Seahorse Species Explored”

  1. Jenny Says:

    My erectus seahorses are brown. What can I do to get them to turn bright orange like the one in the picture?

  2. Timinnl Says:

    What size tank do you have them in?

  3. Protoavis Says:

    Reidi are available in Australia by the only remaining commercial breeders here Seahorse Australia.
    Just expensive and only seems to be females at the time of this comment.

  4. jbkirkorian Says:

    yo i like mc yay! i wuv u mojang!

  5. HOLYDEVIL Says:

    how much would a sea horse cost?

  6. matthew Says:

    how many gallons of tank space would i need for 1 hippocampus zosterae

  7. Matthew Says:

    Well that depends on the seahorse you’re interested in. Typically the larger and more brightly colored individuals cost more than the smaller and duller colored ones

  8. Mike Says:

    does anybody have experience with spiny seahorses (H.histrix).

  9. Ruby Jorgensin Says:

    Actually, Jenny, If Seahorses are first born like that, thats how they will stay. You can’t really get them to change to any color specifically that you would like them to be. It doesn’t work that way.

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