Spiny seahorse (Hippocampus histrix)

Spiny seahorse
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Spiny seahorse fact file

Spiny seahorse description

GenusHippocampus (1)

Named after the spines that project from the corners of the bony plates covering the body (4), the spiny seahorse (Hippocampus histrix) is, like all seahorses, an intriguing and peculiar-looking fish. As well as its spiny appearance, this seahorse can be distinguished by its very long snout (2), which is sparsely patterned with white bars (5). The colour of the spiny seahorse is highly variable, ranging from bright yellow to pale pink or green to match its surroundings (2) (5), and the spines often have dark tips (2). Its independently-moving eyes, which enable the seahorse to scan the surrounding water for potential prey (6), only add to this animal’s bizarre appearance.

Also known as
thorny seahorse.
Adult height: 7.9 - 13.5 cm (2)
Snout length: 1.7 - 2 cm (2)

Spiny seahorse biology

While information on the biology of the spiny seahorse is lacking, it is likely to be similar to that of other seahorses (Hippocampus species). Seahorses are ambush predators that wait in the water until prey, such as a small crustacean, other invertebrate or tiny young fish, passes close by its mouth. With a rapid intake of water, the seahorse sucks the prey up into its long snout (6).

The most distinctive and arguably the most interesting feature of seahorse biology is the manner in which they reproduce. During mating, the female deposits a clutch of eggs into a pouch in the male’s tail, where they are fertilised by the male. The male then seals the pouch shut, enclosing the embryos in a protective environment in which the developing seahorses are supplied with oxygen through a network of capillaries. At the end of pregnancy, the male enters labour, which lasts for hours as the male actively forces the young out of the pouch. Immediately after birth, the young seahorses are independent and receive no further care from either parent (6).


Spiny seahorse range

The spiny seahorse occurs in the west Pacific Ocean, where it is primarily known from Japan, south to Indonesia and the Coral Sea (5).


Spiny seahorse habitat

Found at depths of at least six metres, the spiny seahorse is often found in water over soft bottoms, amongst soft coral, sponges and sea squirts (2) (5), where there is little or no seagrass (2). It may also be found in shallower areas where algae grow on reef rubble (dead, unstable coral) (5).


Spiny seahorse status

The spiny seahorse is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Spiny seahorse threats

Many seahorses are threatened by exploitation for use in traditional Chinese medicines, as well as for curios, souvenirs and aquariums (7). Although the spiny seahorse is known to be collected (5), it is less desirable than some other species for the traditional Chinese medicine trade and is rarely seen in the aquarium trade (2).


Spiny seahorse conservation

The spiny seahorse is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3). It has been recommended that further research is undertaken on this little-known seahorse (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the conservation of seahorses see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
A species belonging to adiverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.


  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2013)
  2. Lourie, S.A., Vincent, A.C.J. and Hall, H.J. (1999) Seahorses: An Identification Guide to the World’s Species and their Conservation. Project Seahorse, London, UK.
  3. CITES (April, 2008)
  4. Lieske, E. and Myers, R. (2001) Coral Reef Fishes. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  5. Kuiter, R.H. (2003) Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives. TMC Publishing, Chorleywood, UK.
  6. Foster, S.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. (2004) Life history and ecology of seahorses: implications for conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology, 65: 1-61.
  7. CITES. (2002) Proposals for Amendment of Appendices I and II, Proposal 37. Twelfth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, The Hague.

Image credit

Spiny seahorse  
Spiny seahorse

© Constantinos Petrinos / naturepl.com

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