The seahorse is also known by his scientific name as Hippocampus, is part of a set of marine fish comprising the family Syngnathidae. The male seahorse is equipped with a pouch, on the ventral or front-facing side of the tail. During the mating, the female seahorse deposits the eggs in the male´s pouch, who incubates them during the gestation period, until babies seahorses emerge developed. This reproductive process is the main characteristic of these creatures.
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Note that although it is known by the name of horse, there is not relationship between these species ,it was named thus because of the similarity in the traits of his head,…. but there is much more information concerning the meaning of the seahorse.
The characteristics of the hippocampus fish, depend on several things,
The seahorse has an elongated structure made up a sort of rings that cover their bony plates, which held together and culminate in the bottom in a spiral shape, which is actually his tail. In relation to his head it is elongated. The seahorse has a tubular snout, and a mouth that lacks of teeth .
His body experiences stiffness, that prevents him from swimming as other species of fish, this is the reason why seahorse moves in an upright position , with help of his dorsal fin which drives his horizontal movements. The referred fin moves at speed of three times per second ,although the seahorse is known by swimming slow and leisurely. ,
These fish are excellent to take care of their predators, ( by camouflaging), since they are able to change the color of their skin.
Having his head at a right angle with his tail, has not been seen in any other species of fish, therefore the seahorse presents unique features in his anatomy. At the same time, his tail in a spiral shape, allows him to conform to corals and hold of some aquatic plants, which is an effective tool to remain firm in intense currents, especially for the smallest species.
On the other hand, it is important to highlight that these animals perform their breathing through their gills, which are fastened in the vertebral column. At the same time they have ears that are comprised of tiny bones termed Otoliths, ;they use them to perceive vibrations in the environment. In the same way, they count with olfactory pits, which are located just in front of their eyes. Furthermore, each seahorse has a kind of Crown on his head, which is unique to each one , and it is called coral network.
Seahorses are not large animals, so their size is small compared to other species of fish. In terms of size, adults can reach at least 14 mm up to 30 cm. Of course, all depends on the species. On the other hand the smallest known species of seahorses, is Hippocampus satomiae, and the largest size is attributed to the species of Hippocampus ingens.
This feature in the seahorse’s anatomy is variant, because this animal has the peculiar ability to change the color of his skin to camouflage in the environment where he lives. This means that according to the colors of his habitat , he will take the same shades. In comparison to other animal species they do not possess abilities to defend themselves from predators , so they use this technique to hide through the coral to avoid to be recognized with the naked eye. Although a hue or color can’t be specified for each species of seahorses, each one presents colors which are recognized among others
Alimentation habits of the seahorse
The seahorse is known for being predator of small species of invertebrates. They hunt their prey through the sense of sight, since their eyes move independently, therefore they are able to differentiate these small species, which usually are crustaceans that make up the zooplankton.
When they get the closest prey, they swallow it by means of their bony snout. They have the ability to suck their prey entire , since these animals do not have teeth ; so their food must fit their snout without problem. This is the reason why they feed, on much smaller species. In turn, the seahorse has no stomach and gets used to consume large amounts of food.
These creatures are commonly found in shallow tropical waters. They prefer warm waters, with temperatures between 3o C and 28oC, which is another distinctive characteristic of their habitat.
The Seahorse lives in the corals, although there are some species that inhabit in macro algae, even mangrove and sea grass. On the other hand, some species of these animals tend to be territorials , females live in a territory not exceeding 100 square meters, and males do not reach a square meter.
Seahorses are often caught from their natural habitat , and used as pets at home. This is a huge risk for them, since they are closely related to the conditions of their environment, so if it changes could even die.
If you consider having an animal of this species as a pet , the aquarium must have the same aspects of his environment especially the right temperature.
The different species of seahorses are commonly distributed in the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, including a portion of the Mediterranean Sea. They also inhabit in the region of the Indo-Pacific waters, including part of the African coast and the waters of the central Pacific. They are also distributed in the Red Sea.
There are about 56 known species scattered throughout the world. In the last two centuries 120 species of this fish were defined, but researchers noticed, that many times they were describing the same species, with some different features.
We could say, that after years of studies to define the species of seahorses, their complexity has complicated the process; since these animals can change the color of their body and develop new skin filaments to better adapt to the conditions of the environment. For this reason researchers must be very precise when describing the characteristics of each species.
Main species of seahorses
This is the best known species, according to its appearance.
The Common Seahorse
They are small and commonly used in aquariums . All species have the ability to change their colors , in this case females usually have shades that range from yellow to slightly darker tones, and in the case of males have a grey color in various shades.
In this species the male tends to grow a bit more than the female.
This type, unlike other species has a soft and smooth texture on their skin. This species is distributed mostly in the waters of Australia and also in regions of Indonesia.
The Pygmy Seahorse
This is one of the smallest species, and they take advantage of their size to easily hide in their surroundings. .It was discovered recently in comparison to other species. They take the predominating color of the environment where they develop, and they also present yellow and orange shades on their skin, , even grey in some cases. On the other hand, unlike other species the Pygmy seahorse has a slim snout. This species is commonly found in the South of Japan and North of Australia.
As we already know seahorses have no teeth , they can’t eat food that is larger in size than them.; since the Pygmy seahorse is one of the smallest, his diet is reduced to small particles that can be found in the surroundings , even tiny particles of crustacean. Due to its size this species faces great risks, since it lacks the strength to withstand strong water currents.
Foliate Sea Dragon
This peculiar species , is also known by its scientific name of Phycodurus eques. This animal may have a length of about 30 centimeters, even some of them can reach 50 cm.
The foliate sea dragon is characterized by having extensions similar to the figure of leaves, thus in many occasions the composition of his body, relates to the algae due to their similarity. In addition to that, it is carried by the currents of his habitat simulating the movements of these. This is the main difference with the others species of seahorses, but at the same time, the sea dragon can change its color to camouflage as the others species do which depends ( as in others species ) on the environment.
The feeding of the foliate Sea Dragon , is similar to that of others species , they suck small crustaceans trough their snout.
This species presents similar characteristics to Foliate Sea Dragon, due to the features of his body he camouflages in an easy way in his environment. This animal simulates a sort of grass or marine plant. In the same way that the Common Seahorse, this creature can change the shades of its skin according to the environment . They are commonly found in Australianscoasts.
The main characteristic of this species is its big and wide belly . It is one of the largest in size, it can reach a length of 35 cm. This species is one of the most popular in China, for medicinal purposes. They are also distributed on the shores of New Zealand and Australia. Since they are a bit larger than other species, their diet includes larger animals such as shrimp. Males have a smooth and soft abdomen, compared to that of females, which is usually more pointed.
In the same way as the previous species, the Pacific Seahorse is one of the largest in size, reaching 30 centimeters many times . Although its size varies according to its habitat. It is known that males become slightly larger than females.
The Pacific Seahorse is also able to change the color of its body , although it’s commonly found in colors like gold, even in various shades of brown and white, a combination of these colors may also occur. This species is distributed in the waters of Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, El Salvador, United States, and Peru. So this is the biggest species in the planet, living mainly in corals.
Communication of the Seahorses
The seahorses communicate among themselves, using a sort of creaks that are generated from their head. This happens when they make quick movements, which makes their skull to come into contact with a part of the outer skeleton.
The reproductive process of seahorses is carried out seasonally, and the pairing is done in seasons where the sea temperature increases. First, in what constitutes courtship in these animals they make a kind of dance, where sea horses pair intertwine their tails. All this takes place while they are swaying together, having some pause periods of 15 or 20 minutes while repeating these steps once again
After the courtship, the male seahorse expels his seminal fluid to the environment, and then the female transfers the eggs to a brood pouch that the male has on his body, this is done with help of her genital papilla and appendix ,which has a measure of about three millimeters long. Now, the eggs will be fertilized as they enter in the cavity of the male.
Once the eggs are in the male´s pouch, they will be ready to start properly developing protected by the body of the father seahorse. This whole process of the entry and fertilization of eggs in the body of the father , is carried out in just six seconds, this is a guarantee that eggs will always come from a single female.
It should be noted that these animals reach sexual maturity at the same time in both genders. This type of reproduction is influenced by aspects of the environment, such as temperature, the amount of light and the stream of water.
The gestation of the eggs , takes between 10 days up to six weeks, it depends on the species of seahorse. Gestation is also affected by the temperature of the water, this is the reason why this process is carried out in specific seasons.
Now, once the eggs are inside the pouch, the father’s body supplies them the needed oxygen through a wrapping tissue. The male’s body experiences internal changes in order to improve the gestation .
For example their hormones generate a placental fluid. This fluid covers a portion of the eggs which is outside the tissues that make up the bag. The constitution of the bag remains steady during the gestation and it is very similar to the sea water , since body fluids are used.
The researchers of this process claim, that the reason for this lies in adapting the offspring to their future habitat.
Once the period of gestation has concluded , in the next step (depending on the case of the species), the male seahorse expels the offspring from his pouch. This type of birth takes a few hours. To make this possible, the male´s body contracts making movements that put pressure to expel each of the offspring. At the same time, the body of the male is held to a firm surface with his tail, during all the gestation process . The characteristics of this birth leads us to conclude that this means an exhausting physical effort for the father, to finally give birth his offspring.
On the other hand, the male rubs his pouch against a solid material, which is usually a rock or a shell, this makes easier the expulsion of hatchlings. The number of offspring is among 10 to 400., it depends on the breeding and species. These new animals that have just been born present physical features identical to their parents. They are about seven to nine millimeters in length. During the first days of life , the young seahorses , keep going in and out of the father’s body puch. This in order to avoid any risk in the environment.
Threats of Extinction
According to recent researches , captivity is the main threat for seahorses. These animals rarely survive the stress related to their capture. However the captivity industry is not stopped.
In spite this fact people continue buying sea horses to keep them as pets. It is known that more than 20 million seahorses, are caught annually especially in countries like China.
We know now, there are multiple reasons that threaten the existence of several species of seahorses. Apart from those mentioned above , we can´t ignore the negative effects resulting from the pollution of the sea, affecting every marine species, specially seahorses who are usually in small depths.
Other reasons, which are not usually mentioned:
- The accidental hunt of these small animals , i.e. when it is carried out fishing for other larger species. Although this reason is not alarming, according to various investigations, the number of these events is increasing.
- Even the dirtiness of fishing nets and the presence of heavy machinery in shallow waters, are common reasons that threaten the integrity and Habitat of seahorses.
Recommendations for conservation
In view of the alarming number of animals affected during last years, specialists and organizations disseminate general recommendations to raise awareness on the conservation of this species. Firstly we should avoid catching a seahorse from his habitat. On the other hand, we should be moderated, before using jet skis and other equipment , we should know previously if the area is populated by seahorses. Since this type of activity could cost the life of these creatures.
In addition to the above, it is recommended to be alert about not catching seahorses by mistake. If this is the case you should return them to their habitat as soon as possible. To do this, you must also be informed of the areas where these animals live.
Once taken the recommendations above, there are others issues we should consider:
- Inform the communities about the conservation of this species in order to avoid their catches, either for consumption or captivity.
- Promote the conservation of habitats, which are commonly tropical coasts where humans have easy access.
- Report to the competent authorities about the illegal acts which may contribute to the preservation and care of the various species of seahorses.
We should not forget that these fantastic marine animals, have an incomparable beauty that rarely can be found in other places and it is the only way to see a seahorse.