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The following is an excerpt from an article titled, "Saddle Up, Cowboy! The Genus Hippocampus" by Henry C. Schultz III...

All tropical and sub-tropical seas of the world house seahorses. A few species are known to extend into the Australian and New Zealand temperate seas, while no species are found in cold water. With that said, the warmer tropical seas show a larger number of species than do the cooler waters of the north Atlantic or southern Australia. One species, Hippocampus capensis, has been observed even in estuaries of varying salinity.

Seahorses, like all Syngnathids, are secretive fish and are highly localized and restricted in their distribution. They are more likely found in bays and lagoons than on the fore-reef. In locales where a seahorse species occurs in shallow water over a rubble or rock sea floor, a second, different species likely lives nearby in slightly deeper water over a soft mud bottom. Seahorses have been viewed, photographed, or collected in waters only several feet deep and conversely at least one species has been trawled from depths beyond 200 feet (H. spinosissimus). Additionally, with only two specimens of H. spinosissimus known, it is the rarest species of the genus. On the opposite end of the spectrum is H. histrix, which is known from Japan to Bali, most parts of Indonesia and the Red Sea, and onto Papua, New Guinea and even into Hawaiian waters, making it the species with the widest distribution. In light of their overall localization and reproduction mode, this wide distribution is rather remarkable. In fact, it is so remarkable it has led some researchers (Kuiter, 1999) to consider the possibility that H. histrix juveniles may have a pelagic stage. Alternatively, further research on this genus may negate some of the localities, as there may have been misidentified species listed, thereby reducing its geographical distribution. At least one species, H. bargibanti, is pelagic for a portion of its life cycle. It settles onto various gorgonian corals and shortly thereafter will adapt the coloration and general shape of the coral (Gomon, 1997).

Perhaps the biggest factor facilitating success with seahorses in the home aquarium is placing them into the proper aquarium with suitable tankmates. Placing the seahorse into a reef aquarium display containing active fishes or stinging corals will most likely be highly unsuccessful. Seahorses should be given a tank unto themselves free of aggressive fish, corals, or mobile invertebrates. Anemones and large-polyped stony (LPS) corals should be entirely avoided, as the seahorses will be stung and injured if they come into contact with the powerful stinging cells found within the tentacles. These wounds could possibly be fatal, and in some cases the seahorses may even be consumed by the anemones. Large crabs will actively hunt seahorses and, if given the chance, will capture and consume them. Due diligence is required to remove any hitchhiker crabs prior to declaring the aquarium suitable for seahorses. Additionally, allow me to strongly recommend a species-dedicated aquarium.

Several species of Hippocampus are readily available in the marine aquarium trade. Additionally, many of them are also widely available as captive bred animals, thereby reducing the numbers of wild-caught fish and increasing the likelihood of the aquarist receiving healthy 'horses. When searching for seahorses, choosing a captive bred animal would be the smartest option. It may also be the only option within a few years' time. A Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulation restricting the harvesting of seahorses less than 2.5" long went into effect this past May, and in all likelihood the restrictions could become even tighter in coming years. Currently, if an exporting country is unable to prove the collection of its native seahorses does not jeopardize the wild populations, it is not permitted to export the species. The time is now to govern ourselves and purchase only captive bred animals.

Text by Henry C. Schultz III.
Photos by Reef Central members.
A special thanks goes out to Dave Bayne (Nanook) for his assistance on this project.

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