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"A seahorse has a head like a horse, a tail like a monkey, and a pouch like a kangaroo. And that's just the beginning of the way seahorses are completely unique in the animal kingdom!"
Seahorses are a small family of vertebrates found in tropical shallows and temperate waters around the world. Seahorses are a type of fish commonly found around coral reefs where there is plenty of food and places where seahorses can hide.
Five Facts About Seahorses
- Seahorse is the slowest fish in the world: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the pygmy seahorse is the slowest moving fish in the world. Its top speed is reportedly only 60 inches per hour!
- They are a fish : the seahorse is instantly recognizable in shape and looks very different from other fish. Seahorses, however, are a fish closely related to pipefish and sea dragons.
- Seahorses have no stomachs: Seahorses are digestive fish without stomachs! This means they have to eat almost continuously to stay alive.
- Male sea horses give birth: Yes, male sea horses are pregnant and give birth to more than a thousand offspring in one breath! Female seahorses lay their eggs in pouches fertilized by male seahorses. After about three weeks of development, seahorse embryos are expelled from the male seahorse's pouch at breakneck speed (you'll want to watch the video below to see what it looks like!)
- Seahorses are romantics, "dancing" for days before choosing a mate: Many seahorse species are monogamous, meaning a pair of male and female will mate for life. Additionally, seahorse courtship often does a "dance" that lasts for several days before they choose a mate!
All seahorse scientific names include their genus, hippocampus . The origin of hippocampus is Greek, which roughly translates to "sea monster". Examples of individual seahorse species include the pygmy seahorse with the scientific name Hippocampus zosterae and the zebra seahorse Hippocampus zebra .
Seahorses belong to the family Syngnathidae, which has 322 identified species as of the end of 2020, 12 of which were discovered in the past decade. Seahorses are most closely related to pipefish and sea dragons. Instead of having scales like most fish, seahorses have a bone structure made up of small plates covered by a thin layer of skin.
It is believed that pipefish and seahorses diverged in the late Oligocene due to large areas of shallow water created by tectonic events. These events occurred in the western Pacific Ocean – the likely origin of the seahorse. Shallow water allows seagrass to grow – providing camouflage for the seahorse's upright posture.
Species: Types of seahorses
More than 46 recognized seahorse species are found in all brackish water types worldwide, except in polar regions and non-temperate coastlines. Seahorses are generally small animals with an average height of about 10 cm, but this depends on the species. For example, a pot-bellied seahorse can reach a length of 14 inches (35 centimeters). Below, we detail selected hippocampal types.
Dwarf seahorse ( Hippocampus zosterae )
Pygmy seahorses live in the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas, and Florida. Its maximum length is only 5 cm, and it was named the slowest fish in the world by Guinness World Records. Pygmy seahorses are popular in aquariums but face threats related to habitat loss.
Pygmy Seahorse ( Hippocampus bargibanti )
The pygmy seahorse lives in the Indonesian archipelago and northern Australia off the coast of the western Pacific Ocean, in water depths ranging from 16 to 40 metres. It prefers to live near soft corals. This species is one of the smallest seahorses, measuring only 2.4 cm in maximum size. Pygmy seahorses have a distinctive appearance, with red bulbous tubercles all over their bodies, which allow them to blend seamlessly with coral reefs and short snouts.
Pot-bellied seahorse ( Hippocampus abdominalis )
The pot-bellied seahorse is found in southern Australia and New Zealand. This species can reach a length of 35 cm (14 in), making it one of the largest seahorse species. Belly-Belly seahors are nocturnal and live in water depths ranging from 0 to 104 m.
Zebra Seahorse ( Seahorse Zebra )
Zebra seahorses are so named because their black and white stripes look very similar to zebras. First described in 1964, little is known about the species. It is found near coral reefs off the coast of Queensland, Australia, and can reach a maximum length of 8 cm.
Giant Seahorse ( Hippocampus ingens )
The giant hippocampus can reach a length of 30 centimeters (12 inches), slightly smaller than the pot-bellied hippocampus. This species lives in coral reefs along the eastern Pacific coast. Its range extends from northern San Diego to the Galapagos Islands. This species was assessed as threatened by IUCN at the end of 2016.
Barbour's seahorse ( Hippocampus barbouri )
Barbour's seahorse grows to 15 cm (6 in) and lives on islands and reefs near Indonesia and the Philippines. This species prefers hard coral reefs. It was rated Vulnerable by the IUCN in 2017.
Giraffe seahorse ( Hippocampus camelopardalis )
Giraffe seahorses live in waters up to 45 meters down the coast of Africa, from Tanzania to South Africa. This species prefers seagrass and algae beds
Tiger tail seahorse ( here comes the seahorse )
Tigertail seahorses are found throughout Southeast Asian waters and can grow to nearly 20 centimeters (8 inches). This species is monogamous and lives near aquatic vegetation such as coral reefs and sponge gardens. With "tiger-like" stripes on the body, this species is a popular choice for aquariums. However, since 2013, the species has been listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
Spiny Seahorse ( Hippocampus histrix )
The spiny seahorse gets its name from the "spines" that cover its body. This species has a long snout and is one of the most widespread of all seahorses. Spiny seahorses are also found in much of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. This species has been assessed as Vulnerable by the IUCN and is threatened with habitat destruction.
Seahorses are among the most unique-looking animals in the world. They look like horses, have pouches like kangaroos, and tails that grip objects like monkeys. Additionally, their bodies are covered by a series of bony plates, and they have tiny "wings" (dorsal fins) that guide them slowly and awkwardly through the water.
Seahorses are masters of camouflage, and the colors and even textures of different species closely match their environment, which helps them evade predators. One species, the pygmy seahorse ( Hippocampus bargibanti ), has such extreme camouflage that it was first discovered in 1970 after coral colonies were collected for aquariums, and it was later realized that there was a new species of seahorse on the coral! The potbellied seahorse, on the other hand, is the largest species of seahorse in the world, reaching nearly 14 inches in length!
Seahorses move with their dorsal fins, which resemble small "wings" on their backs. However, they are extremely slow and the Guinness Book of World Records lists the pygmy seahorse as the slowest fish in the world. During storms and bad weather, seahorses use their grasping tails to hold on to objects to keep them from being tossed around by rough waters.
Seahorses typically have long and thin snouts, which allow them to probe coral and other marine plants, suck up small invertebrates and other food. Their jaws are fused together and they don't chew their food.
Distribution and Habitat
Seahorses are found in oceans around the world, but most species live in tropical or warm temperate waters. The areas with the highest concentration of species are Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, with many species living in different habitats.
In general, seahorses prefer soft coral environments and live on offshore reefs where depths rarely exceed 100m. However, the species' habitat can also be found in kelp, eelgrass, open water, grass beds and many other environments characterized by aquatic vegetation to which seahorses can attach or blend in.
Seahorses have many unique features that help them survive in the marine environment. Seahorses have a long snout for sucking food and a long tail, which is used by seahorses both to move in water and to attach to corals and aquatic plants, by curling this long tail around objects Do this by anchoring yourself around downwards.
predator and prey
The seahorse is primarily a carnivore. It inhales food through its elongated snout, which has no teeth or chewing ability. Seahorses feed mainly on brine shrimp. Plankton, tiny fish. Although seahorses are primarily carnivorous, they occasionally feed on plants such as algae and seaweed. Since the seahorse has no stomach, it eats almost non-stop, sometimes consuming a quarter of its body weight in a day!
Due to their small size and vulnerability, seahorses have many predators in their natural environment. Crustaceans such as crabs, fish and rays are common predators of seahorses. Predatory fish such as bluefin tuna have also been found to have seahorses in their stomachs. However, humans harvesting seahorses for medical use are their main threat (see our Populations and Conservation Status section for more information).
Seahorses are also vulnerable to bad weather, as they are often thrown ashore from where they cling during storms.
For a complete breakdown of a seahorse's diet, be sure to read "What Do Seahorses Eat?" 15+ Foods They Crave.
Reproduction and Lifespan
One of the most notable facts about seahorses is that the males actually carry the eggs before they hatch. In most other animal species, the female is responsible for guarding the offspring until birth. Instead, female seahorses lay their eggs (between 5 and more than 1,000 eggs, depending on the species) in the male's brood pouch until they hatch, about 3 to 6 weeks later.
The labor process is best illustrated with a short video, which you can watch below:
After birth, seahorse offspring cling to objects but are extremely vulnerable to predators. In general, seahorse pups (called "fry") have a very low survival rate. This depends on the species, but may be less than 1% for some species.
Many seahorse species are monogamous, meaning that males and females mate for life. Seahorse species are also known for their deliberate courtship rituals, which can last anywhere from hours to days.
Courtship relies on a synchronized "dance". Males and females lock their graspable tails and perform synchronized movements, often changing colors. This "dance" can last for days, with males and females following similar swimming patterns.
Population and Conservation Status
By the end of 2022, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed two seahorse species as endangered, 12 species as vulnerable, one species as near threatened and 10 species as least concern . Major threats to the species include habitat loss and its use in traditional Chinese medicine.
The loss of coral reefs and seabeds that house seahorses has accelerated the decline of many species in recent decades. A study of white seahorses has found that severe habitat loss is the main cause of population declines.
Additionally, traditional Eastern medicine (spanning several countries) values dried hippocampi for their purported benefits for impotence and other medical ailments. There is no known scientific basis for these claims, but dried seahorses retail for close to the price of gold in many Asian markets. Overfishing for traditional medicines has put pressure on many species, including the pygmy seahorse.
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The oldest fossil records of seahorses date back 13 million years.
Seahorses are kept as pets, although it is recommended for professional hobbyists. Keep in mind that many seahorse species are facing declining populations due to habitat loss and overfishing for traditional medicines. If you're looking to pet seahorses, they are considered difficult pets to keep. They require large brine tanks (often over 30 gallons) and do better in large flocks.
Seahorses are slow-moving fish that rely on camouflage to survive. They face many predators such as sharks, crabs and rays. Scientists studying bluefin and yellowfin tuna have found seahorses in the bellies of the tuna they studied. In general, most predatory fish that patrol shallow water environments will eat seahorses if given the opportunity.
What do seahorses eat. Are they carnivores?
Seahorses are usually carnivorous, eating amphipods, shrimp, fish larvae, and other small foods that can be "sucked" into their elongated snouts. Additionally, seahorses occasionally eat kelp, seagrass, and algae. However, this is not the main food of seahorses.
Potbellied seahorses are generally considered the largest of the species, reaching lengths of up to 14 inches. Giant seahorses (sometimes called Pacific seahorses) are similar in length, measuring up to a foot long.
Seahorses belong to the animal kingdom.
Seahorses belong to the phylum Chordate.
The hippocampus belongs to the class Actinopterygii.
Seahorses belong to the family Syngnathidae.
Seahorses belong to the order Syngnathiformes.
Seahorses belong to the genus Hippocampus.
Seahorses are covered with skin.
Seahorses live in shallow tropical waters and in coral reefs.
Seahorses have long snouts and male seahorses have pouches.
Seahorses typically lay 250 eggs.
The scientific name for the seahorse is hippocampus.
Seahorses can live from 2 to 6 years.
The optimal pH for hippocampus is between 7.9 and 8.4.
Seahorses lay eggs.