Shorthead Seahorse, Hippocampus breviceps Peters 1869

Other Names: Knobby Seahorse, Short Snouted Seahorse, Short-head Seahorse, Short-headed Seahorse, Shortsnout Seahorse, Short-snouted Seahorse

A pair of Shorthead Seahorses, Hippocampus breviceps. Source: Rudie H. Kuiter / Aquatic Photographics. License: All rights reserved


A small, well-camouflaged seahorse with a short snout, and lots of fleshy tendrils on the body. Shorthead Seahorses are often seen in patches of Sargassum seaweed in Port Phillip, Victoria.

Video of a male Shorthead Seahorse giving birth

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson, Hippocampus breviceps in Fishes of Australia, accessed 18 Mar 2018,

Shorthead Seahorse, Hippocampus breviceps Peters 1869

More Info


Endemic to temperate southern Australian waters from the South Australian gulfs to the Bass Strait region of Victoria and Tasmania, and south to Port Arthur, Tasmania; absent from eastern Victoria and Western Australia.

Benthic, from subtidal depths to about 15 m; usually found in shallow seagrass beds or amongst macro-algae (Cystophora and Sargassum spp.) on sheltered coastal reefs in protected bays and estuaries; occasionally live in sponge gardens in deeper areas.

The species is most common in Port Phillip Bay where it aggregates in algal weed patches near sandy areas.


Meristic features: Dorsal fin rays 19-22; Anal fin rays 4; Pectoral fin rays 14-15; trunk rings 11; tail rings 38-42; subdorsal rings 3-5.

Body small, slender and elongate, rather fleshy, often with fleshy tendrils on head and over back, appendages longer in males; trunk deep; snout moderately short, longest in juveniles, moderately shallow; strong constriction between head and trunk; body covered with thick, fleshy skin.

Spines absent; fleshy tubercles few or reduced, best-developed along dorsal-fin base and over superior tail ridge; subdorsal spines 3-4/0,0,1,1 or 3-4/0,0,1,0.

Coronet distinctly raised, with a fleshy covering; apex rounded with up to 5 fleshy filaments, one usually at centre.

Lateral line distinct with large pores on rings just above lateral ridge on trunk, continuing onto tail to about 20th tail ring; each pore usually with several papillae.


Height to 100 mm.


In life, overall drab grey to bright yellow-orange with mix of numerous small black spots and black-ringed white ocelli over much of the trunk and the anterior part of the tail; ventral surface of tail with pale bars; dorsal fin with 2 darkish longitudinal bands. In preservative - mainly cream to pale brown with dark spots on head and ocelli in the form of tiny dark circles mixed with dark spots on head and trunk.


The Shorthead Seahorse feeds close to the sand or rubble during the day, preying mostly on small crustaceans such as mysid shrimps.


Sexes separate, males give birth to tiny independent young. The female uses an ovipositor to transfer her eggs into an elaborate enclosed pouch under the abdomen of the male. The male not only fertilizes the eggs inside the pouch and provides physical protection for the developing embryos, he also osmoregulates and aerates the embryos and may provide some nourishment until the offfspring are born.

Breeds in summer and individuals do not form socially monogamous pairs. Males may brood eggs from several females at the same time and the young are born after an incubation period of about 25 days.

Males studied in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, remained in relatively small areas and appeared to give birth at night. Unlike some other seahorse species, adults live in mixed-sex groups and unlike a number of other seahorse and pipefish species, do not undertake daily social rituals.

Eggs: Females produce 50 to 100 eggs per brood; egg diameter 1.6 mm.
Larvae: Pelagic larvae are morphologically similar to adults at birth; they cling to each other or floating weed at the surface. In Port Phillip Bay during the summer months near the full moon, young are seen in large numbers clinging to floating bits of weed on outgoing tides. Juveniles settle out at about 25 mm.


The species is reared commercially for the Australian and international aquarium trade.


Listed as a genus (Hippocampus) on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

IUCN Red List: Data Deficient

EPBC Act 1999: Marine Listed

1. All syngnathids are listed as Protected Aquatic Biota in Victoria.
2. The Tasmanian Living Marine Resources Management Act 1995 prohibits the take of all syngnathids in Tasmania (by non-permit holders, since Sept. 1994).
3. All syngnathids are subject to the export controls of the Commonwealth Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982 from 1 January 1998.


H. breviceps is the smallest seahorse species found in southern waters.

Similar Species

Similar to juveniles of the Bigbelly Seahorse, Hippocampus abdominalis, a species with 12-13 trunk rings.


The species name breviceps is from the Latin brevis meaning short and -ceps from the Latin caput meaning head, referring to the short head of this species.

Species Citation

Hippocampus breviceps, Peters, 1870. Mber. K. preuss. Akad. Wiss. Berl. 1870: 710. Type locality: Adelaide, South Australia.


Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson

Shorthead Seahorse, Hippocampus breviceps Peters 1869


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Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland Press, Frenchs Forest, NSW, 434 pp.

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Kuiter, R.H. 2001. Revision of the Australian seahorses of the genus Hippocampus (Syngnathiformes: Syngnathidae) with descriptions of nine new species. Rec. Aust. Mus. 53: 293-340.

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Moreau, M.-A. & A.C.J. Vincent. 2004. Social structure and space use in a wild population of the Australian short-headed seahorse, Hippocampus breviceps Peters 1869. Mar. Freshwat. Res. 55: 231-239.

Neira, F.J., A.G. Miskiewicz & T. Trnski. 1998. Larvae of temperate Australian fishes: laboratory guide for larval fish identification. University of Western Australia press, Nedlands, Western Australia.

Peters, W. 1869. Über neue oder weniger bekannte Fische des Berliner Zoologischen Museums. Monatsb. Akad. Wiss. Berlin 1869: 703-711.

Pogonoski, J.J., D.A. Pollard & J.R. Paxton. 2002. Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Canberra, Environment Australia, 375 pp.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37282026

Conservation:IUCN Data Deficient; EPBC Act Marine Listed

Depth:1-15 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:Height 10cm


Species Maps

CAAB distribution map