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, a distinctly tall coronet, and fleshy tendrils on the head and body. Individuals are often seen amongst patches of Sargassum algae in Port Phillip, Victoria.

Video of a male Shorthead Seahorse giving birth

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2021, Hippocampus breviceps in Fishes of Australia, accessed 28 May 2024,

Shorthead Seahorse, Hippocampus breviceps Peters 1869

More Info


Endemic to temperate southern Australian waters from Port Welshpool, Victoria, eastern Tasmania, and west to at least Venus Bay, South Australia. The species may also occur in the eastern part of the Great Australian Bight, South Australia.

Usually inhabits shallow seagrass beds and macro-algae (Cystophora and Sargassum spp.) in bays, estuaries and on sheltered coastal reefs. Individuals occasionally occur on deeper sponge gardens.

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


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, tall, 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 a mottled drab greyish to bright yellowish-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 preys mostly on small crustaceans such as mysids, harpacticoid copepods, and gammarid and caprellid amphipods.


The sexes are separate, and the female uses an ovipositor to transfer her eggs into an elaborate enclosed pouch under the abdomen of the male. The male provides physical protection for the developing embryos, osmoregulates and aerates the embryos, and may provide some nourishment until the offspring are born.

Breeding occurs during the summer months and individuals do not form socially monogamous pairs. Males may brood 50-100 eggs 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.

Females produce 50 to 100 eggs per brood; egg diameter 1.6 mm. The 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 seagrass and alage 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: Least Concern

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.


Lourie (2016), Lourie et al. (2016) and Pollom (2016) regarded Hippocampus tuberculatus as a junior synonym of H. breviceps.

Similar Species

Similar to the Knobby Seahorse, Hippocampus tuberculatus, a species endemic to Western Australia. 

The Shorthead Seahorse may also be confused with juvenile Bigbelly Seahorses, Hippocampus abdominalis, which have 12-13 trunk rings (vs 11 trunk rings in H. breviceps).


The species name breviceps is from the Latin brevis (= short) and -ceps from the Latin caput (= head) in reference 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.


Bray, D.J. 2021


Atlas of Living Australia

Shorthead Seahorse, Hippocampus breviceps Peters 1869


Castelnau, F.L. de 1875. Researches on the fishes of Australia. Intercolonial Exhibition Essays. 2. pp. 1–52 in, Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 : Official Record. Melbourne. 

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Dawson, C.E. 1994. Family Syngnathidae. pp. 440-475 figs 391-426 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs (as Hippocampus breviceps, but including H. tuberculatus)

Edgar, G.J. 2008. Australian Marine Life: the plants and animals of temperate waters. Sydney : Reed New Holland 2nd edn, 624 pp. 

Foster, S.J. & Vincent, A.C.J. 2004. Life history and ecology of seahorses: implications for conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology 65: 1-61 

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Hamilton, H., Saarman, N., Short, G., Sellas, A.B., Moore, B., Hoang, T., Grace, C.L., Gomon, M., Crow, K. & Simison, W.B. 2016. Molecular phylogeny and patterns of diversification in syngnathid fishes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 107: 388-403 + supplement 1-4 + 5.

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Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Sea-horse romance. Sportdiving Magazine 16: 105-107.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp. 

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 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. Records of the Australian Museum 53: 293-340 

Kuiter, R.H. 2008. Syngnathidae. pp. 448-479 in Gomon, M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp. 

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Last, P.R., Scott, E.O.G. & Talbot, F.H. 1983. Fishes of Tasmania. Hobart : Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority 563 pp. figs.

Lourie, S.A. 2016. Seahorses. A life-size guide to every species. Chicago : The Unversity of Chicago Press 160 pp. (as Hippocampus breviceps but including H. tuberculatus as a synonym)

Lourie, S.A., Pollom, R.A. & Foster, S.J. 2016. A global revision of the Seahorses Hippocampus Rafinesque 1810 (Actinopterygii: Syngnathiformes): Taxonomy and biogeography with recommendations for further research. Zootaxa 4146(1): 1–66 ((as Hippocampus breviceps but including Hippocampus tuberculatus as a junior synonym)

Lourie, S.A., Vincent, A.C.J. & Hall, H.J. 1999. Seahorses. An identification guide to the world's species and their conservation. Project Seahorse. x 214 pp. (as Hippocampus breviceps but including H. tuberculatus as a synonym)

Martin-Smith, K.M. & Vincent, A.C.J. 2006. Exploitation and trade of Australian seahorses, pipehorses, sea dragons and pipefishes (Family Syngnathidae). Oryx 40(2): 141-151

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

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Peters, W.C.H. 1869. Über neue oder weniger bekannte Fische des Berliner Zoologischen Museums. Monatsberichte der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin 1869: 703-711 

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Short, G., Harasti, D. & Hamilton, H. 2019. Hippocampus whitei Bleeker, 1855, a senior synonym of the southern Queensland seahorse H. procerus Kuiter, 2001: molecular and morphological evidence (Teleostei, Syngnathidae). ZooKeys 824: 109-133.

Whitley, G.P. 1931. New names for Australian fishes. The Australian Zoologist 6(4): 310-334 1 fig. pls 25-27 (as Farlapiscis breviceps)

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37282026

Biology:Males brood the eggs

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern; EPBC Act Marine Listed

Depth:1-15 m

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:Height 10cm


Species Maps

CAAB distribution map