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Freshwater Seahorses: Everything You Need To Know

The freshwater seahorse is an urban legend. Although some seahorses may thrive in brackish rivers, most are marine species. These fish are not available for purchase as seahorses and are not suitable for life in an aquarium.

A pet seahorse is frequently referred to as a “hippocampus”, which is derived from the Greek word for horse. The hippocampus is frequently misrepresented as a freshwater seahorse, which is incorrect. As a result, the seahorse you see for sale at your local fish store is actually a freshwater pipefish.

Despite the fact that the pipefish is linked to the seahorse, actual seahorses can only be found in a marine aquarium.

What Exactly Are Pipefish?

The pipefish, like the seahorse, is a member of the Syngnathidae group, albeit they are not the same species. Pipefish may reach lengths of up to eight inches. These fish have an identical shaped head and snout to seahorses, with tiny, narrow, toothless mouths, and they feed by producing a vacuum that sucks in the tiny crustaceans, plankton, and juvenile shrimp that make up their food.

The similarities between pipefish and seahorses cease at the creature’s head. The pipefish has a long, thin, straight body that provides excellent concealment for the seagrasses and weeds that are its preferred home.

What exactly are pipefish?
What exactly are pipefish?

Despite freshwater seahorses being far stronger swimmers than their distant marine relatives, they cannot deal with strong currents and move around extremely slowly, pushed through the water by a small dorsal fin.

Some pipefish species, like seahorses, have a prehensile tail that may hold things to save the fish from being washed away by the tide and in turbulent aquatic habitats.

Expert Tip: There are approximately 200 kinds of pipefish, which come in a variety of hues such as green, red, orange, brown, purple, and black. Some freshwater seahorses may even change color during the day depending on their environment.


The majority of hippocampus species dwell in tropical and subtropical marine environments, amid coral reefs and lagoons with a rich flora of seagrass and eelgrass that the fish employ as camouflage for protection and sucking in unwary food. A few species can exist in both fresh and brackish water, although this is quite rare.


Pipefish are a lot of fun to watch, especially in couples. Your pets will crawl through the sandy ground, much like sea snakes, in quest of food. These critters are masters of disguise, and if you have vertical plants in your tank, the seahorses will arrange themselves erect amid the plants, heads pointed downward, looking for prey.

Individuals in groups frequently cling to each other’s tails to form a continuous chain.

Taking Care of a Freshwater Seahorse

Taking Care of a Freshwater Seahorse
Taking Care of a Freshwater Seahorse

Keeping a seahorse as a pet is not suggested for inexperienced aquarists because these species are difficult to care for, and you will need to give the appropriate environment with optimal water conditions if your fish is to flourish.

Tank Embellishment and Substrate

Pipefish require a lot of areas. You should ideally allow at least 20 liters of water for each fish. A huge marine tank with plenty of colorful coral, grass, and rocks is the best aquarium arrangement for pipefish. You should also provide caves and overhangs for the fish to hide in.

Coral sand should be used as the substrate. Because freshwater seahorses are visual feeders, the tank should be well-lit during the day.

Water Quality

Pipefish dwell in tropical seas, therefore keeping the water temperature between 720 and 770 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH of the water should be between 8.1 and 8.4, with a specific gravity of 1.020 to 1.025 and carbonate hardness (dKH) ranging from 8 to 12.

Expert Tip: Because these fish are not great swimmers, you’ll need to utilize a filtration system that doesn’t create too much flow.


Pipefish should only be maintained with their own species, preferably in pairs or groups. Seahorses, on the other hand, might be kept in a marine aquarium. Some pipefish species may be aggressive, and they are sluggish feeders, which can present issues if you try to build a communal setting with quicker fish.


Pipefish Diet
Pipefish Diet

Carnivores, freshwater seahorses devour plankton, tiny crustaceans, copepods, small shrimp, and amphipods. Large pipefish will also consume smaller fish, worms, and insects. The aquarium should be well-established, with lots of live rock and macroalgae to support enormous pod populations.

Generally speaking, you should feed your fish frequently and in small amounts. A diverse range of living foods is required to offer a well-rounded diet. Choose foods from a marine environment because they are high in the highly unsaturated fatty acids that these creatures require.

Because freshwater species lack those critical fatty acids, you’ll need to supply your seahorses if necessary. Several enthusiasts choose to give their pipefish frozen meal. Grate the food so that it is tiny enough for the fish to readily consume.

Also, make it a habit to feed the fish at the same time every day, and keep the food in the same location in the tank so it can be easily found. One issue that many hobbyists have is that pipefish cannot discover the food that is provided for them, which can result in hunger in some situations.


The stresses of transportation frequently take their toll on freshwater seahorses, resulting in disease and health issues, most common bacterial infections. When selecting your new seahorses, keep an eye out for indicators of bacterial illness, such as:

  • Eyes, skin, or fins that are cloudy
  • Breathing quickly
  • Skin that is raw and ulcerated

Pipefish raised in captivity are often tougher than wild-caught individuals and can survive for eight to 10 years.

Pipefish Species That Are Popular in Aquariums

Only a few of the 200 freshwater seahorse species are aquarium-friendly. As a general rule, the more aggressive the variety, the smaller the variety. Flagtail pipefish and Dragon face pipefish are the two most prevalent pipefish in aquariums.

Pipefish with A Flag Tail

Pipefish with A Flag Tail
Pipefish with A Flag Tail

Doryrhamphus spp. and Dunckerocampus spp. are the two species of flagtail pipefish. Doryrhamphus spp. thrive in reef aquariums, however, they can be aggressive. Dunckerocampus spp. is more tranquil, however, they do not endure traveling well and are more susceptible to bacterial illnesses.

Pipefish with A Blue Stripe (Doryrhamphus excisus)

The bluestripe pipefish is a lovely, resilient flagtail that is ideal for beginners. Bluestripes are just three inches long, but they are incredibly active and require a vast area to keep them happy. Male bluestripes can be aggressive, so maintain one of each gender together that is of comparable size.

Pipefish with Bands

This species is not to be confused with the multi-banded pipefish, which is highly aggressive and does not do well in captivity.

Pipefish with A Dragon’s Face (Corythoichthys sp.)

Pipefish with a Dragon's Face
Pipefish with a Dragon’s Face

Only three of the 12 identified Dragon face pipefish types are maintained as pets, primarily because they don’t move well and many die in transport. Many stockists simply label these fish as Dragon face pipefish without distinguishing between the varieties.

The Dragon face requires a big aquarium of at least 30 gallons with an abundance of macrofaunae and live food, as these fish find frozen food distasteful. Dragon faces should ideally reside in couples or groups in a large tank.

Pipefish Breeding

Pipefish breeding may be fun for experienced hobbyists who have the correct equipment and setup. The male fish is the one who bears the offspring, generally in a pouch or spongey region on his tail. Mating comprises a number of intricate ceremonies.

Expert Tip: Following mating, the female deposits her eggs, which are subsequently fertilized by the male before being carried to his pouch, where they incubate before hatching. To maximize the odds of her children, the female would frequently mate with many males.

Pipefish fry becomes self-sufficient very soon, and just around 1% of the infants survive to maturity.

Seahorse Characteristics

The suborder Syngnathoidei, to which seahorses belong, consists of eight families.

This suborder contains sea moths (Pegasidae), seahorses and pipefishes (Syngnathidae ghost pipefishes (Solenostomidae), trumpetfishes (Aulostomidae), snipefishes (Macroramphosidae), cornetfishes (Fistulariidae), shrimp fishes (Centriscidae), and uncommon freshwater (Myanmar).

Representatives of this suborder have various distinct biological and anatomical traits that set them apart from all other fishes. Physical characteristics include partially or completely external armor in the form of bony plates, tufted gills, and an elongated snout that ends abruptly in a tiny mouth.

The Pipefish Family Includes Seahorses

Seahorses are members of the pipefish family, which is defined by the absence of a caudal fin and the ability to swim upright. This unusually upright species swims with a transparent dorsal fin that is sometimes practically undetectable, as well as pectoral fins situated behind the head.

The dorsal fin has the ability to undulate at a pace of 35 times per second. Seahorses are sluggish swimmers despite their incredible fin speed. They have a prehensile tail that they utilize to grip seagrasses, sea fans, and other aquatic objects.

Seahorse Facts

To avoid starvation, seahorses <a href=
To avoid starvation, seahorses must eat almost continuously.

To avoid starvation, seahorses must eat almost continuously. They take in food with their long snouts, including minuscule shrimp, plankton, and fish larvae – anything will fit through their tiny mouth. Seahorses, unlike most other fish, do not have scales. Their skin is stretched across bone plates to form a type of armor.

Despite this safeguard, numerous seahorses are discovered among the stomach contents of larger fish after autopsy.

Seahorses range in size from around an inch to more than a foot long. Small seahorses live for about two years, while medium-sized and larger species can live for up to four years.

Expert Tip: Color changes are common in seahorses. They do so to avoid predators, show aggressive instincts, and engage in courting rituals.

Because each eye can swivel independently of the other, one eye can be looking in one direction while the other is scouting out a whole other location. This gives the seahorse a somewhat humorous facial expression, which is one of the reasons why it is such a popular addition to home aquariums.

Final Thoughts

For centuries, seahorses have captivated the public’s imagination. Hippocampus, the genus name for seahorses, literally means “sea monster horse”. Seahorses, while they appear to be very different from other fish in the sea, are still fish. The organisms are classified as Actinopterygii, which include salmon, sardines, and tuna.

It is easy to see that a seahorse is a fish if one gently stretches it and lays it out on its stomach. Seahorses are wonderful creatures with unrivaled flair and beauty. When observed in a home or public aquarium, these aquatic “chess knights” may captivate and entertain you and your family for hours.

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