The Seahorse

 swimming seahorse

The Seahorse is a marine fish with a prehensile tail who breathes through its gills. The prehensile tail means it can attach and hang on to objects, and it is the only group of fish that has this feature. (Prehensile tails are more often associated with mammals and reptiles, such as monkeys, possums, rats, snakes, and some lizards). The seahorse is of the genus Hippocampus, the name being derived from the Ancient Greek word hippos meaning "horse" and kampos meaning "sea monster." There are 54 species of these small fish, and they usually live in shallow tropical waters.

Seahorses are a beautiful curiosity in the water, but did you know…?

  • Seahorses are known for their exceptional eyesight, their eyes being able to work independently, which allows them to see both forward and back at the same time as their eyes are on the side of their heads.
  • They feed on small crustaceans. Adults eat between 30 and 50 times a day, sucking in  prey through their snouted nose, while baby seahorses eat an amazing 3,000 pieces of food a day.
  • It is the male who becomes pregnant, carrying the female-supplied eggs in his pouch for a gestation period of about 2-4 weeks. The "courtship" is a graceful dance between the pair, usually showing them with intertwined tails, dancing through the water. This dance may last as long as eight hours. The eggs hatch inside the pouch before delivery into the sea. It is a common myth that seahorses mate for life (they do not), though it is true that the relationship does last at least as long as the mating season. Throughout gestation, the female does practice daily visits to her mate (probably to make sure he’s doing it right). The number of seahorses born from each pregnancy averages 100–1,000 for most species, and the male usually gives birth at night to be ready to receive another lot of eggs from his mate in the morning.
  • Baby seahorses are called "fry," as in "small fry." They are totally on their own from the moment of their birth. It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 will survive predators to see adulthood.
  • They are not the greatest swimmers. With only a lone dorsal fin to propel them, which must flap between 30-70 times a second, they are considered the slowest of fish. They have been known to literally die from exhaustion in a strong current. But they are maneuverable, being able to move and dart up and down and as needed. 
  • They can camouflage themselves, blending into whatever scenery they are around, or changing color to completely resemble whatever they have attached themselves to.
  • They are considered endangered as they are hunted by the medicinal, curio, and pet trades. The Chinese, who use the seahorse as aphrodisiacs and cures for respiratory ailments among other things, harvests as much as 150 million seahorses a year. The curio trade accounts for about 1 million seahorse deaths a year, capturing them and killing them by drying in the sun (like many shells and starfish) to sell as souvenirs. The pet trade takes another million seahorses from the sea each year, though seahorses do not fare well in captivity.
  • The seahorse, with its slow, sure movements and stealthy stalking of its own prey, are symbolic of patience and contentment.

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine September 2017 issue.

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