Long snouted seahorse

Hippocampus guttulatus

 

Long snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) © Steve Trewhella

Seahorses are bony fish and belong to the same family as seadragons and pipefish.  Two kinds of seahorse can be found in UK waters, and can be differentiated by the length of their snouts.  The long snout of this particular seahorse is more than one third of the length of its head.  The tube-like snout, which has no teeth, acts like a vacuum cleaner for food, sucking up tiny shrimps.

Seahorses live in shallow beds of seagrass and seaweeds, swimming upright with their long tails wrapped around the plant stems, which helps them to avoid being swept away by strong currents.  

Instead of scales, seahorses have skin stretched over a series of bony plates, which are visible as rings around the body. This bony armour helps protect them, and there are few animals that eat adult seahorses.

Seahorses are also protected by their excellent camouflage, but this does make finding and studying them more of a challenge.

We know that seahorses form faithful pairs for at least the duration of the breeding season, and are unique in the animal kingdom in that it is the male seahorse who carries the developing young.  The female transfers her eggs into a pouch on his stomach, where they are fertilised, and the pouch sealed.  The male gives birth to fully formed young about three weeks later.

Globally, there is a huge trade in seahorses for traditional Asian medicine and as curios and in the aquarium trade.  Their collection from UK waters is prohibited.

 

Other common names

Spiny seahorse

 

European distribution

Long snouted seahorses have been found in southern Norfolk, Essex, south-eastern England, along the south coast up around parts of Wales and on up the west coast of Scotland to the Shetland Isles.  The UK and west coast of Ireland represent the northerly limit of the seahorse’s range: it is found on Atlantic coasts as far south as Morocco and in the Mediterranean.

 

Conservation status/need

  • This is a UK BAP Priority Species (BAP species are now Species of Principal Importance/Priority Species).
  • This is on the OSPAR list of threatened and/or declining species and habitats.
  • Species of principal importance for the purpose of conservation of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
  • Protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Long Snouted Seahorse Fact
  • Protected under Annex II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)

 

Further information

JNCC - UK BAP Priority Species and Habitats

OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats

OSPAR Commission – Background Document for the Long-snouted seahorse - Hippocampus guttulatus - updated 2013

European Environment Agency

Fishbase

Marine Life Information Network

World Register of Marine Species