BackgroundSeahorses are well known for their highly derived head shape, prehensile tail and armoured body. They belong to the family of teleosts known as Syngnathidae, which also includes the pipefishes, pipehorses and seadragons. Very few studies have investigated the development of the skeleton of seahorses because larvae are extremely difficult to obtain in the wild and breeding in captivity is rarely successful. Here we compare the developmental osteology of Hippocampus reidi over an ontogenetic series spanning the first 93 days after release from the brood pouch to that of a smaller series of Hippocampus; namely H. subelongatus.ResultsWe compare the osteology in these two species over growth to the published description of the dwarf species, H. zosterae. We show that ossification onset in H. subelongatus is earlier than in H. reidi, despite similar sizes at parturition. Interestingly, the timing of development of the bony skeleton in H. zosterae is similar to that of the larger species, H. subelongatus. Furthermore, we show that the growth rate of all three species is similar up until about 30 days post pouch release. From this stage onwards in the life history, the size of the dwarf species H. zosterae remains relatively constant whilst the other two species continue growing with an accelerated growth phase.ConclusionThis data together with a phylogenetic assessment suggests that there has been a heterochronic shift (a delay) in the timing of ossification in H. reidi and accelerated bonedevelopment in H. zosterae. That is, H. zosterae is not a developmentally truncated dwarf species but rather a smaller version of its larger ancestor, “a proportioned dwarf” species. Furthermore, we show that caudal fin loss is incomplete in Hippocampus seahorses. This study shows that these three species of Hippocampus seahorses have evolved (either directly or indirectly) different osteogenic strategies over the last 20–30 million years of seahorse evolution.