The seahorse is undeniably one of the most beautiful and mysterious creatures in the ocean, if not in the entire world. Their unique appearance is very pleasing to the eye and their vertical swimming, as slow as it is, is surely a sight to behold. Today we’d like to help you get to know seahorses a little bit better and to prove that they are in fact a real species (sadly, some people believe them to be mythical creatures.)
Altogether, there are 54 different species of seahorses, so if you’ve seen one seahorse, you surely haven’t seen them all. They are found in varying numbers in nearly every part of the world, though they strongly prefer warmer tropical waters. They also prefer to make their residents in areas that provide protection and concealment, such as along coral reefs, nested in sea grass, or among mangroves. Consequently, areas that possess these items are the ones in which you’re most likely to spot a seahorse in the wild.
Their name is derived from the fact that their faces and heads bear some striking resemblance to those of horses. Despite the facial resemblance, they are decidedly smaller than their equine namesakes, with their typical lengths being between 1 and 14 inches, dependent upon the species. Unlike most fish, a seahorse doesn’t have any scales. Rather, it has a very thin skin that is stretched out over the bony ridges it possesses along the length of its body.
If you’re trying to figure out what species of seahorse you’re viewing, you can do so by counting the number of these ridges. Every species has a different amount1. They are also a very colorful fish, with no two having the exact same color scheme. Seahorses also possess superior vision. Their eyes are placed on either side of their heads and can be moved and used independently, much like those of a chameleon3.
Seahorses are unique in that they swim vertically rather than horizontally. They also swim very slowly and will sometimes just remain in one spot by wrapping their prehensile tails around an object on or near the ocean floor. When it comes to family and love life, the seahorse is one of the most unconventional species of the sea. Before mating, a pair of seahorses will “date” for a while before moving on to the next level and starting a family. This process is referred to as courting.
The exact reasons behind seahorse courting are a matter of some conjecture. However, most leading scientists believe it is connected to an attempt by the male and female to learn each other’s patterns of movement so that when the time comes, it will be easier for the male seahorse to receive the female’s eggs upon their release. Another part of the courting ritual is an eight-hour long mutual movement session referred to as the “Predawn Dance”2 in which the seahorses will swim side by side and sometimes intertwine their tales and slowly move about in a circular motion. As they are doing this, they will frequently change color, though the exact process behind this is largely unknown.
Once the pair feels they know each other well enough to take things up to a more serious level, the female will deposit her eggs inside of the male’s pouch where they are then fertilized and will develop for a period of up to 45 days. When they are ready to hatch, the male seahorse will eject the young via a series of muscular contractions. He will do this once a day for several days until all of the young have been released.
In many cases, once a pair of seahorses has mated, they will form a monogamous relationship and only breed with each other for the rest of their lives. Others are a little less formal about things though and will breed with whatever other seahorse will have them.
In terms of diet, seahorses mainly eat small crustaceans such as tiny shrimp and other small prey such as krill. Unfortunately, seahorses have been experiencing rapidly shrinking numbers as of late and are at risk of becoming an endangered species. Factors such as pollution, and over-aggressive harvesting (mainly for medicinal purposes in Asia2) have contributed to this problem. They also tend to fare quite poorly when kept as aquarium pets as few people have the knowledge to properly care for them.
As previously mentioned, seahorses are used for medicinal purposes in Asia. This is done in China more so than in any other nation. This is due to the fact that for centuries, it has been believed by many Chinese that seahorses have the ability to cure impotence and to make labor and childbirth and easier experience. They are usually consumed in pill form but are sometimes dried out and ingested orally. In other cases, they are simply just eaten as a snack in this form, usually served on a stick by street vendors.
If you’d like to help in the fight to preserve seahorses and help to ensure their well-being, you’ll want to take a look at The Seahorse Trust website.
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The Seahorse Trust