Natural England - Short snouted seahorse

Short snouted seahorse

Hippocampus hippocampus

Short snouted seahorse large

Short snouted seahorse 
© Steve Trewhella

The scientific name of seahorses is Hippocampus, which translates as ‘horse caterpillar’ or ‘horse monster’.

They live in shallow water in beds of seagrass and seaweeds, so their distribution generally depends on the presence of these plants. In winter, it is thought that seahorses move into deeper water to escape rough seas, and they have been recorded from depths of 75m. Short snouted seahorses tend to be found in slightly shallower water than their long snouted relatives.

Seahorses use their tails to anchor themselves to the stems of the plants, and are extremely well camouflaged. This helps protect them from predators, as do the bony plates beneath their skins. Very few animals can get their teeth into the body armour of an adult seahorse, although they are the prey of large fish, crabs and seagulls. Seahorses themselves eat tiny shrimps. They have no teeth, and use their snout to suck their food straight into their stomachs.

Seahorses form faithful partnerships with their mates, but recent research suggests this is not necessarily for life. Uniquely, it is the male who becomes pregnant and gives birth to the young, after the female transfers her eggs to a pouch on his stomach.

Globally, seahorses are used in traditional Asian medicine, in a trade that takes millions of animals each year. They are also sold dried as curios and taken live for the aquarium trade. Aquarium collection did occur in Weymouth Bay and the Channel Islands but is now prohibited.

Brief description of European distribution

Short snouted seahorses are found in the extreme south of England and the Channel Islands. In Europe, they occur on Atlantic coasts from the Wadden Sea to Portugal, in the Black Sea, and in the Mediterranean, where they are given extra protection under the Bern and Barcelona Conventions.

Conservation status / need

UKBAP Priority Species

Protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

In England, it is a species of principal importance for the purpose of conserving of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006

Protected under Annex II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna)

Further information sources

World register of marine speciesexternal link (WoRMS)

Short snouted seahorseexternal link Fishbase website

Short snouted seahorse - Hippocampus hippocampusexternal link Marine life information network

Sea-horse (Hippocampushippocampus)external link Marine species identification portal

Hippocampus hippocampusexternal link European Environment Agency

British seahorse surveyexternal link

Interesting fact

Male short snouted seahorses push and shove when competing for a mate, sometimes going as far as wrestling with their tails and use their snouts to ‘throw’ their rivals.