What is a Seahorse?

Any of the approximately 36 species of marine fishes related to pipefishes in the family Syngnathidae are known as sea horses (genus Hippocampus). Seahorses can be found in shallow coastal waters between 52° N and 45° S. Coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, and estuaries are among their preferred environments. With their horse-like head, prehensile tail, independently moving eyes, and brood pouch, they have a distinct appearance. Their snouts are long and tubular, and their mouths are short and toothless. Their bodies are coated in a series of bony plate rings. The Greek words hippos (meaning "horse") and kampos (meaning "sea monster") are used to designate the genus that includes sea horses.

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Habitat of a Sea horse

Seahorses prefer shallow, clean water. Because these tiny animals can be swept away by strong currents or tides, they prefer to live in calm waters. Seahorses can be found in a variety of habitats, including seagrass beds, coral reefs, estuaries, and mangroves. They can be found in tropical and temperate oceans all across the world.


Physical Description of the Sea Horse

The size of a seahorse can range from 1.5 to 35.5 cm. Their horse looks, with bent necks, large snouted heads, and a unique trunk and tail have earned them the name. They don't have scales, despite being bony fish, and instead, have thin skin stretched over a series of bony plates grouped in rings throughout their body. There are a different number of rings for each species. They are additionally protected from predators by their bony plate defense, and they no longer have ribs due to their outer skeleton. Seahorses swim upright, propelling themselves with their dorsal fin, a trait they share with their pipefish ancestors, who swim horizontally. The only other fish that swim vertically are razorfish. The pectoral fins, which are placed behind their eyes on either side of the head, are utilized for steering. They don't have the caudal fin that fish have. Their prehensile tail is made up of square-like rings that can only be opened under extreme situations. They are good at camouflaging, and depending on their environment, they can grow and reabsorb spiny appendages.


A seahorse has a flexible, well-defined neck, which is unusual among fish. It also has a "coronet," a crown-like spine or horn on its head that is unique to each species. Seahorses swim very slowly, fluttering a dorsal fin and steering with pectoral fins. H. zosterae is the world's slowest-moving fish, having a top speed of roughly 1.5 meters per hour. They are most likely to be discovered resting with their prehensile tail wound around a stationary object because they are poor swimmers. They have lengthy snouts that they use to suck up food, and their eyes, like those of a chameleon, can move independently of one another.


Seahorses have the ability to change colour thanks to chromatophores, which are special structures in their skin cells. When seahorses are fleeing predators or stalking their own prey, they use camouflage, or the ability to fit in with their surroundings. They may also change colours to greet their mate as part of a welcoming dance.


Diet

Seahorses eat small crustaceans, the most frequent of which are mysid shrimp. They've also been reported to eat fish larvae and tiny invertebrates. They hunt by pivot feeding, which involves creeping up on prey and quickly turning their heads to suck them up.


Reproduction

Seahorse’s reproductive behaviour is unique in that the fertilized eggs are carried by the male. After an elaborate courting, the female places her eggs in a brood pouch at the base of the male's tail, where they are later fertilized, using an ovipositor (egg duct). The eggs can stay in the pouch for 10 to 6 weeks, depending on the species. During this time, the male takes care of the developing baby seahorse by controlling the chemistry of the fluid inside the pouch, gradually changing it from his internal bodily fluids to saltwater as the pregnancy proceeds. To nurture the baby seahorse, the male makes inorganic compounds and distributes the hormone prolactin, which aids in the breakdown of the female's proteins. The male convulses his body and expels the young through a single orifice in the pouch once the eggs hatch. The children are miniaturized replicas of their parents who are given no further attention. Almost shortly after giving birth, the male can receive another brood of eggs. In some species, a monogamous pair bond is maintained throughout the breeding season, and many broods are produced.


Reproductive Roles

The male must spend a lot of energy in order to reproduce. This raises the question of why sexual role reversal occurs in the first place. Bateman's concept says that in a situation where one partner incurs greater energy expenditures than the other, the lesser contributor becomes the aggressor. Male seahorses are more aggressive than female seahorses, and they will sometimes compete for female attention. Only males tail-wrestle and snap their heads at each other, according to Amanda Vincent of Project Seahorse. This discovery sparked more research into energy costs. Researchers chemically evaluated the energy contained in each egg to measure the female's direct contribution. Oxygen consumption was utilized to determine the strain on males. The study found that a female's energy consumption when producing eggs is twice that of a male during incubation, validating a long-held belief.


It's unclear why the male seahorse (and other Syngnathidae members) carries the young through gestation, while some experts believe it allows for shorter birth intervals, resulting in more offspring. Males have the capacity to generate 17 percent more children than females in a breeding season if they have an unlimited number of ready and willing partners. Females also have 1.2 times longer “time-outs” from the reproductive cycle than males. This appears to be due to mating preference rather than physiology. When the female's eggs are ready, she must either deposit them or eject them into the water column within a few hours. Physically, making eggs costs her a lot of money because they account for nearly a third of her body weight. To avoid losing a clutch, the female insists on a lengthy courtship. The daily pleasantries contribute to the pair's bonding.


Behaviour

Seahorses have a slow swimming speed. They are, in fact, the slowest of any fish. They lack a caudal fin, unlike most fish (a tail fin). Instead, they propel themselves using a single tiny fin on their back. This fin has the ability to beat 50 times per second. However, due to its small size, it is ineffective in rough waters.


Seahorses can swim forwards, backward, up, and down, even if they aren't particularly quick swimmers. They navigate with small pectoral fins, and their buoyancy is controlled by a swim bladder (an air pocket inside their body). They can move up and down in the water by adjusting the quantity of air in their swim bladder.


Seahorses have prehensile tails as well. This means that, like a monkey's tail, its tail can grasp and hold objects. They grasp items to keep themselves anchored in place, but they may also grab a moving object in order to catch a ride somewhere.


Human Interaction

Humans are a direct threat to seahorse survival, and we don't have the data to calculate precise population loss rates. Bycatch from other fishing businesses is a common occurrence for these sea creatures. Pollution and ocean acidification are also having a direct impact on the destruction of seagrasses and corals.


Despite their limited survival, seahorses are also caught in the wild for hobby aquarists. Individuals that have been bred in captivity are far more likely to survive than those who have been captured and transported. These fish are also commonly caught for traditional Chinese medicine.


Evolution

Seahorses are highly modified pipefish, according to anatomical data corroborated by molecular, physical, and genetic evidence. Seahorses, on the other hand, have a very limited fossil record. Hippocampus guttulatus (though literature more frequently refers to them as Hippocampus ramulosus) specimens from the Marecchia River Formation of Rimini Province, Italy, dating back to the Lower Pliocene, about 3 million years ago, are the best known and studied fossils. The earliest seahorse fossils are from the coprolitic horizon of Tunjice Hills, a middle Miocene lagerstätte in Slovenia going back around 13 million years, and are of two pipefish-like species, H. sarmaticus, and H. slovenicus. Pipefish and seahorses separated during the Late Oligocene, according to molecular dating. As a result, it's been suggested that seahorses evolved in response to enormous expanses of shallow water that were generated as a result of tectonic events. The shallow water would have allowed seagrass habitats to expand, which would have provided camouflage for the seahorses' upright posture. These tectonic shifts happened in the western Pacific Ocean, indicating that they originated there, and molecular evidence suggests that two independent invasions of the Atlantic Ocean occurred later. The seahorse genome was shown to be the most quickly developing fish genome investigated so far, according to a study published in Nature in 2016.


Beliefs

The consumption of dried seahorses is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases. Wheezing, impotence, general pain-relieving, and even labour induction are all treated using dried seahorses. Every year, it's estimated that up to 20 million seahorses are sold as traditional Chinese medicine.


Seahorse Predators and Prey

The seahorse is mostly a carnivorous creature. It feeds itself by sucking food into its body with its elongated snout, which is devoid of teeth and the capacity to chew. The seahorse eats brine shrimp, plankton, and other small fish species. Seahorses are generally carnivorous, however, they will eat algae and seaweed on occasion. Because it lacks a stomach, the seahorse must feed very constantly, consuming up to a fourth of its body weight in a single day!


Because of its small size and vulnerability, the seahorse is preyed upon by a variety of predators in its natural habitat. The seahorse is preyed upon by a variety of crustaceans, including crabs, fish, and rays. Seahorses have also been identified in the stomachs of predator fish such as bluefin tuna. Humans, on the other hand, who collect the seahorse for medical purposes are their main threat (see more in our population and conservation status section). Seahorses are also vulnerable to inclement weather, as they are frequently flung from the area they were clinging to and onto the shore during storms.


Conservation Status

The IUCN has classified two seahorse species as Endangered and 12 as Vulnerable as of late 2020. Habitat loss and its usage in traditional Chinese medicine are the two most serious risks to the species. Many species have seen their numbers drop in recent decades due to the destruction of coral reefs and seabeds that contain seahorses. Significant habitat degradation was identified to be the principal contributing factor to population decreases in a study of the white seahorse. Furthermore, traditional Eastern medicine (practiced in various countries) holds dried seahorses in high regard for their alleged benefits in the treatment of impotence and other medical conditions. Although there is no scientific evidence to support these beliefs, dried seahorse sells for nearly the same amount as gold in several Asian marketplaces. Many species, including pygmy seahorses, have been harmed by overfishing for traditional medicine.


Facts about the Seahorse

These unique organisms have adapted to existence in a unique way, with an intriguing body form that no other fish species can match. They have a number of distinguishing characteristics as a result of their deviation from the norm.

  • The Horse Appearance - Seahorses' heads resemble those of horses, but that's about where the resemblance ends. Horses are athletic and well-suited to travelling quickly over land. In the sea, seahorses do not have the same adaptation; in fact, they are terrible swimmers. They rely on their prehensile tails instead to keep them from being washed away.

  • Seahorses are the only known creatures in which the male carries his or her unborn offspring. The fertilized eggs are placed inside the pouch of the male seahorse, and the male fertilizes the eggs. Dad will keep the eggs in his pouch until they hatch, at which point he will give birth to fully developed tiny seahorses.

  • Monogamous Men — Some seahorse species are known to mate for life, or at the very least to keep the same mating couple throughout the breeding season. This is a very rare trait in fish, and while not all seahorse species are monogamous, it is highly uncommon in the groups that practice it.

  • Within the Striking Range – Seahorses' distinctive head shape is thought to be crucial in ambushing the small zooplankton they hunt. The seahorse hunts by tracking its little target carefully before snapping its head to the side and sucking it up.

  • Seahorses are connected to other bony fish such as cod, tuna, and ocean sunfish, despite their distinct appearance. Seahorses can be difficult to identify since they come in a range of colours and are skilled camouflage artists, changing their colour to blend in with their surroundings. There are now 47 species of seahorses identified.

Conclusion

A seahorse may not be the first fish that comes to mind when you think of a fish. Its head resembles that of a horse. It swims in a straight line. Instead of scales, it is covered in bone plates. A seahorse, on the other hand, is a type of fish related to pipefish and seadragons. Seahorses can be found all over the world in tropical and temperate coastal waters. Seahorses have been identified by scientists as 46 different species, ranging in size from 13 mm (.5 in.) to 35 cm (1.1 ft.). Individual seahorses within the same species might seem significantly different from one another, making it difficult to distinguish them using only visual markings and traits. This is due to the fact that seahorses have the ability to change their shape and colour to blend in with their surroundings. 


As a result, scientists have turned to genetic studies to help them distinguish between the species. Seahorses can be found in all of the world's oceans, but the majority of them live in tropical or warm-tempered waters. Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific have the highest species density, with a variety of species living in various habitats. Seahorses love soft coral environments & live in offshore reefs with depths of less than 100 meters. Kelp, eelgrass, open water, grass beds, and a variety of other locations with aquatic flora that the seahorse can cling to or blend in with are examples of habitats where the species can be found.

FAQs on Sea Horse

1. Are Seahorses Kept as Pets?

Ans: Seahorses are kept as pets, however only by experienced enthusiasts. Keep in mind that habitat degradation and overfishing for traditional medicine are threatening the populations of several seahorse species. The pet seahorses are notoriously tough to keep. Huge saltwater tanks (usually greater than 30 gallons) are required, and they survive in large numbers.

2. What Eats Seahorses?

Ans: Seahorses generally are slow fish that depend on camouflage to stay alive. Sharks, crabs, and rays are among the dangers they face. Seahorses were identified in the bellies of bluefin and yellowfin tuna analyzed by scientists. If given the chance, most predatory fish patrolling shallow water environments will consume a seahorse.

3. What are the Physical Features of a Seahorse?

Ans: Seahorses are one of the world's most uncommon animals. Their head looks like a horse's, they have a pouch like a kangaroo, and their tail is prehensile like a monkey's for grasping stuff. In addition, their bodies are coated in bony plates, and they have small "wings" (dorsal fins) that guide them through the water slowly and clumsily. Seahorses are masters of camouflage, with different species' colours and textures closely matching their surroundings, allowing them to hide from predators.

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