Watch Out For This Case Of Mistaken Identity: Not Dwarf Seahorses; Baby Seahorses

By: | Date: 08/03/2015 | 5 Comments |
Juvenile H. come compared to H. zosterae

Left, Tiger Tail seahorse from MaryG, right Dwarf Seahorse, photo by Felicia McCaulley

Regular readers of are aware of my concern over juvenile seahorses being sold far too small and young. It came to my attention recently that sometimes very young juveniles of larger seahorse species are being sold as Dwarf Seahorses  Hippocampus zosterae due to the exceptionally small size they are being sold at.

This issue came to light by way of the our forum member Maryg. She asked  to confirm the species of a couple seahorses sold through her local fish store as dwarf seahorses.

The seahorses in question were in fact juvenile Tiger Tail Seahorses Hippocampus comes. While dwarf seahorses stay small at around 1.5″-2″, H. comes grow significantly larger to 5-7″. The two species have drastically different feeding and housing requirements.

Saddened, Not Surprised

I was both shocked and at the same time unsurprised by this. Juvenile seahorses from overseas farms are arriving smaller all the time, so of course it’s obvious that these types of mix ups will happen. Identifying seahorse species is notoriously difficult to all but the most avid seahorse aquarists and researchers, and even then we make mistakes. Of course the next progression of misidentification of super small juvenile seahorses is going to be confusion over the diminutive Dwarf Seahorses. Once farm raised seahorses started showing under two inches, this was inevitable.

Mary believes this was just the mistake of a store employee, and the Florida-based store is well respected. But it highlights some additional problematic issues with extremely small juvenile seahorses now often found for sale. They can easily be confused with dwarf species to the unwary, and either outgrow their setup, or worse, languish in an incorrect system.

And lest we think this is a one off occurrence, another aquarist Momo Yang chimed in that he too observed H. comes sold as Dwarf Seahorses in Los Angeles, CA. I can’t help wondering how often this occurs.

A Small Silver Lining

As it happens, there might be some overlap in care for very young seahorses from larger species and true Dwarf Seahorses H. zosterae. Some juveniles have been arriving so small that newly hatched and enriched artemia might be a necessary first food. And smaller aquariums can make feeding very young seahorses easier than trying to target feed in an appropriately large aquarium.

The trick of course is to be sure to upgrade as they grow, which should happen rather quickly. If you don’t know that will happen or aren’t expecting the expense of constantly upgrading aquariums, and keeping water stable on small aquariums where rapidly growing seahorses need to be fed with multiple daily feedings.

This can be a problem for many aquarists. The expectation with dwarf species is that they can stay in a small aquarium indefinitely, provided they are well-cared for. Now, with a fast growing, medium size seahorse, they are on the hook to provide suitable housing for a seahorse that was expected to spend it’s life in a 2-6 gallon aquarium. As a former fish store employee and someone who’s witnessed the hobby for 30+ years, there is if not the intent, the hope that aquarist will start with a small, inexpensive aquarium and then upgrade to a larger, more expensive setup. If the small seahorses survive, it’s going to be a requirement.

Female Tiger Tail Seahorse

Mature Tiger Tail Seahorse H. comes. Photo by Tami Weiss

Dwarf seahorses are in a league of their own and bbs hatched and enriched daily. They can stay in small aquariums indefinitely and in fact should to ensure feeding densities are correct. The aquarist now need to be mindful that maybe it will work in the short term, but very quickly they’ll need to graduate to larger food such as small mysis. This in itself is tricky business, something that might give the aquarist quite a bit of trouble.

What’s Next?

We have two different people on different sides of the US reporting they’ve seen very young juvenile seahorses sold to them as Dwarf Seahorses. Is this a trend or two unusual circumstances? I hope the latter but fear for the former.

Have you seen young juvenile seahorses sold as dwarf seahorses? If so, please leave a note in the comments below.

5 Responses to “Watch Out For This Case Of Mistaken Identity: Not Dwarf Seahorses; Baby Seahorses”

  1. Laura Says:

    I bought one of my tiger tails as a fry at a lfs, they continue to sell fry or very small juvenile h.comes. The only positive is they do list them as h.comes. But they display them with inappropriate fish. They do feed them mysis, but not often enough for such young seahorses. The seahorses are also expected to compete with the fish. It is sad……

  2. TJ Johnson Says:


    I, like Momo, have found several stores claiming the “dwarves” are Kelloggi. I refused to purchase them even though I thought it would be in the seahorse best interest. I can’t imagine that stores here in LA/OC could possibly sell them so small! How can we stop this? Most of the stores don’t even know how to care for such fry!

    I’ve been trying to talk to store owners about the seahorses to let them know really what got themselves into so they don’t support purchasing these precious babies!

    Anyhow, I’m just concerned and confirming this horrible trend that we both are starting to see here on the west coast.

  3. Sue Whitty Says:

    Once again a very well written piece of information,i found it very interesting to read.

    I think i am very lucky to have a very helpful lfs who will go out of his way to help,if he can’t answer your question they he will go out of his way to find the answer.

  4. TamiW Says:

    Hi TJ! Disappointing, but not surprising to hear that the practice is so widespread. I’m doubtful that it’s malicious, but I do think it poses a huge problem.

    I’m not sure what is to blame. I’ve seen price lists from overseas farms, and they offer seahorses in larger sizes. But someone somewhere is deciding that they don’t want the larger seahorses. Maybe cost is a fear – the belief that seahorses are difficult and have high mortality could reinforce the decision to purchase inexpensive seahorses as shop keepers don’t want to be on the hook for more expensive seahorses that might die. Of course, it’s a fulfilling prophecy – shops believe seahorses aren’t hardy, so purchase the smallest, which will have the worst mortality, this reinforcing the belief that they aren’t hardy, so they don’t want to spend more on larger seahorses.

    The fish keeping hobby has a long history of selling inappropriately sized fish for too small aquariums. This ranges from iridescent sharks in the freshwater hobby to marine sharks, and everything in between. I sometimes wonder if the proliferation of very small, young seahorses is to appeal to people that want a seahorse for nano and pico tanks. They probably don’t live long in those circumstances, but the old myth of seahorses being either short lived or difficult persists. It does worry me, because then I can’t help but wonder how many seahorses end up dying just from being too small to handle transit and infrequent feedings that would occur in a wholesaler and local fish store set up.

    Getting the word out is good! Maybe if more people say something, stores will demand better, which will encourage fish stores to look for bigger seahorses. At least that’s my hope.

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