Most species are coastal residents, present in shallow continental shelf areas in a variety of habitats, such as coral reefs, atolls, offshore reefs, sea grass meadows, kelp forests, tide pools, estuaries, bays, and lagoons and over sandy or muddy bottoms. Many species live cryptically, hiding among rocks and crevices in reefs or blending in with gorgonian corals or sea grasses. Many species have pelagic young, which eventually settle closer to the bottom. Some 20 gasterosteiform species are freshwater (at least one stickleback is exclusively so, along with Indostomus and pipefishes of the genera Mi-crophis, Hippichthys, and Dorichthys) and are present in a variety of habitats, including lakes, coastal rivers, creeks, marshes, and protected coastal inlets. Some 40 species are euryhaline, found in brackish environments. As far as is known, no species occurs in deep-water environments.

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