Hippocampus barbouriBarbour's seahorse

Geographic Range

Hippocampus barbouri is the only species of seahorse located entirely in Southeast Asia. Their distribution has been confirmed in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. (Lourie, et al., 2004; Lourie, et al., 2005)


Hippocampus barbouri is a shallow water species that inhabits sea grass beds, as well as mangrove swamps, estuarine, and muddy areas less than ten meters deep. Their habitats are found scattered along coastlines and in sheltered bays. Oftentimes, this seahorse is associated with calcareous seaweed. (Kuang and Chark, 2004; Lourie, et al., 2004; Lourie, et al., 2005)

  • Range depth
    10 (high) m
    32.81 (high) ft

Physical Description

Hippocampus barbouri has well developed spines, including a sharp eye and nose spine and a double cheek spine. Their first dorsal spine is the longest and broadest and is curved slightly backward. The tail has a series of long and short spines, and is relatively short in proportion to the body. The snout is slender and striped, and the coronet (i.e., crown) is moderately high with four or five spines. Fine lines radiate out from the eye. Hippocampus barbouri ranges from white to yellow to greenish gray to light brown, and may have reddish brown spots or lines on the body.This species is sexually dimorphic, as males possess brood pouch not present in females. In addition, males average from 11 to 15 cm, whereas females are slightly smaller, ranging from 11 to 13 cm. The maximum height of the H. barbouri is around 15 cm. (Kuang and Chark, 2004; Lourie, et al., 2004; Oconer, et al., 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range length
    11 to 15 cm
    4.33 to 5.91 in


There is no information available regarding the development of Hippocampus barbouri.


Like many seahorses, Hippocampus barbouri is monogamous and mates multiple times in a season, sometimes with the same partner over multiple breeding seasons. Females deposit their eggs into the male's brood pouch, which is separated from the body cavity by a wall of cartilage. Like other seahorses, males carry eggs during development and manipulate them using a modified anal fin. Throughout pregnancy, males and females strengthen pair bonds with daily greetings. (Lourie, et al., 2004; Oconer, et al., 2003; Wilson and Vincent, 2000)

Gestation in Hippocampus barbouri lasts 12 to 14 days, and typical brood size ranges from 10 to 250 offspring. Hippocampus barbouri is ovoviviparous and gives birth to rather large young, averaging 5mm in length. Juveniles are independent immediately upon birth. Newborns attach themselves to substrate shortly after birth. Most males are reproductively mature by 8 cm in length, as indicated by the presence of a brood pouch and a fully developed reproductive system. (Cato and Brown, 2003; Oconer, et al., 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Seahorses mate soon after giving birth.
  • Range number of offspring
    10 to 250

Hippocampus barbouri males carry developing eggs until birth, after which adults provide no parental care to young as juveniles are immediately independent. (Lourie, et al., 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male


There is no information available regarding the average lifespan of Hippocampus barbouri. Maintaining seahorses in aquaria has a low success rate due to complications such as a need for large quantities of food, failure to recognize signs of starvation, and problems with external parasites and bacterial pathogens. (Wilson and Vincent, 2000)


There is little information available regarding the general behavior of Hippocamous barbouri. It spends most of its time attached to hard corals and other solid surfaces. (Cato and Brown, 2003)

Home Range

There is no information available regarding the average home range size of Hippocampus barbouri. This species is relatively sedentary and remains attached to corals for extended periods of time. (Cato and Brown, 2003)

Communication and Perception

There is no information available concerning communication and perception in Hippocampus barbouri. However, all fish have a lateral line system that allows them to perceive changes in temperature and pressure in the surrounding environment, and their eyes allow them to receive visual stimulation as well.

Food Habits

Although there is little information on the diet of the Hippocampus barbouri in the wild, their sedentary nature likely restricts them to zooplankton and phytoplankon, which they ingest via the snout. (Mosk, et al., 2007; Wilson and Vincent, 2000)


Hippocampus barbouri is most vulnerable during its juvenile stage, and many piscivorous fish and invertebrates likely prey upon it. Its texture and coloration help camouflage it from potential predators and the numerous spines covering its body likely make them unappealing to predators. Although there is no information available regarding predators specific to this species, potential predators may include large pelagic fishes, skates, rays, penguins, and various reef-dwelling water birds. (Lourie, et al., 2004)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

There is no information available concerning the potential ecosystem roles of Hippocampus barbouri.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is no information on the economic importance of Hippocampus barbouri. In China, seahorses are used in a variety of traditional medicines. (Lourie, et al., 2004)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Hippocampus barbouri on humans.

Conservation Status

Hippocampus barbouri is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. This species is widely targeted for the aquaria trade and accidental capture by non-selective fishing gear poses a significant threat to its long-term survival. In addition, sea grass habitats, which are an important component of H. barbouri habitat, are currently threatened due to trawling practices. In general, seahorses are commonly sold in tonic foods in traditional Chinese medicine, as curiosities, and for live ornamental display. This species is currently listed under CITES Appendix II. (Lourie, et al., 2004)


Molly Cobb (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


a method of feeding where small food particles are filtered from the surrounding water by various mechanisms. Used mainly by aquatic invertebrates, especially plankton, but also by baleen whales.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs develop within the maternal body without additional nourishment from the parent and hatch within the parent or immediately after laying.


photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)


an animal that mainly eats plankton

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Cato, J., C. Brown. 2003. Marine Ornamental Species: Collection, Culture & Conservation. Ames, Iowa: Blackwell Publishing Company. Accessed March 15, 2011 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470752722.ch21/pdf.

Kuang, C., L. Chark. 2004. A record of seahorse species (family Syngnathidae) in East Malaysia, with notes on their conservation. Malayan Nature Journal, 56/4: 409-420.

Lourie, S., D. Green, A. Vincent. 2005. Dispersal, habitat differences, and comparative phylogeography of Southeast Asian seahorses (Syngnathidae: Hippocampus). Molecular Ecology, 14/4: 1073–1094. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2005.02464.x/pdf.

Lourie, S., S. Foster, E. Cooper, A. Vincent. 2004. A Guide to the Identification of Seahorses. Washington DC: Project Seahorse and TRAFFIC North America. Accessed March 10, 2011 at http://www.traffic.org/species-reports/traffic_species_fish29.pdf.

Mosk, V., N. Thomas, N. Hart, J. Patridge, L. Beazley, J. Shand. 2007. Spectral sensitivities of the seahorses Hippocampus subelongatus and Hippocampus barbouri and the pipefish Stigmatopora argus. Visual Neuroscience, 24/3: 345-354.

Oconer, E., A. Herrera, E. Amparado, R. Dela Paz, D. Kime. 2003. Reproductive morphology and gonad development of the male seahorse, Hippocampus barbouri Jordan and Richardson 1908. Asia life sciences, 12/1: 27-38.

Wilson, M., A. Vincent. 2000. Preliminary success in closing the life cycle of exploited seahorse species, Hippocampus spp., in captivity. Aquarium Sciences and Conservation, 2/4: 179–196. Accessed March 14, 2011 at http://seahorse.fisheries.ubc.ca/Documents/Journals/2001/Wilson_and_Vincent_2000.pdf.