Friday, 7 December 2012


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The seahorse is a graceful inhabitant of the warmer seas and look like a piece from a chess kit. An oddity among ocean life, the seahorse was at one time thought to be a mythological animal.

The seahorse is a member of the pipefish family, belonging to the order Gasterosteiformes, family Syngnathidae and species Hippocampus.  There are 35 species ranging in size from a 2.5 cm pigmy variety to the giant 35 cm Eastern Pacific seahorse.

Seahorses are usually found in warm, shallow water amongst sea grass beds.  While some species prefer muddy or sandy areas, others can be found hanging onto corals, sponges, mangrove roots or even wrapped around the mooring ropes of boats.
In all cases seahorses will be found where there is deep, fast water channel nearby to provide a good supply of their main food, plankton.  

Seahorses are poor swimmers. They rely on their dorsal fin beating at 30-70 times per second to propel it along. Pectoral fins either side of the head help with stability and steering. Their tails are prehensile; that is they are specially adapted for grasping. To avoid being swept away by the current they wrap their tails around nearby vegetation.

The seahorse escapes the attention of predators by developing long skin filaments and camouflage colouration to match the marine weed in which it lives.  Within a matter of seconds it can change from grey or black to bright orange, vivid yellow or even deep plum.
In seahorses it is the male who takes on the responsibility of pregnancy.  This allows the females to make more eggs straight away without the need to nurture the last batch.  In a reverse of roles, because the male limits the rate of reproduction, the females compete with each other for the attention of the males.

After a long and noisy courtship (several days of posturing, colour changing and clicking to each other) the female releases her eggs into a special pouch on the male’s abdomen.  She leaves the male to fertilise the eggs as they embed into the spongy tissue of the pouch wall.  The male creates a special fluid to nourish the developing embryos and after gestation, he releases the free-swimming young into the sea.  The babies are born as perfect miniatures of their parents.  By the time they are two months old, they have grown to 5 cm.

Seahorses feed constantly.  They feed on plankton and other tiny prey. Seahorses can move their eyes independently and so can follow the activity of passing tiny sea life without giving their presence away.  When they judge that their prey is within range they quickly snap it up or suck it in from as much as 3 cm away.

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