Seahorse: Characteristics, reproduction, habitat and more

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.

Seahorse

Seahorse

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.




Main Characteristics

The characteristics of   the hippocampus fish, depend on several things,

Let’s  see 

Anatomy

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.

Size

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.

Color

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.

Habitat

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.

Distribution

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.

Clasification

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.

    • Water Dragon

 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.




    • Bellied  Seahorse

 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.

    • Pacific seahorse

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.

      • Reproduction



    • Courting

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

      •   Mating

 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.

Gestation

 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.

      • Birth

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.

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