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Seahorses are mainly found in shallow tropical and temperate waters throughout the world, and prefer to live in sheltered areas such as seagrass beds, estuaries, coral reefs, or mangroves. In Pacific waters from North America to South America there are approximately four species. In the Atlantic, the H. erectus ranges from Nova Scotia to Uruguay.
Anatomical evidence, supported by molecular, physical, and genetic evidence, demonstrates that seahorses are highly modified pipefish. The fossil record of seahorses, however, is very sparse. The best known and best studied fossils are specimens of H. guttulatus (though literature more commonly refers to them under the synonym of H. ramulosus), from the Marecchia River Formation of Rimini Province, Italy, dating back to the Lower Pliocene, about 3 million years ago. The earliest known seahorse fossils are of two pipefish-like species, H. sarmaticus and H. slovenicus from the coprolitic horizon of Tunjice Hills, a middle Miocene lagerstätte in Slovenia dating back about 13 million years.