Seahorses are whimsical-looking ocean creatures that are more than just interesting on the outside. These “horses of the sea” can range in size from under one inch to more than one foot long, and they reside in waters all over the world. Seahorses are adversely affected by climate change, plastic pollution, and other factors. Some ways to keep their populations strong is by combatting ocean trash, reducing your carbon footprint, and steering clear of single-use plastics.
Let’s dive into some surprising facts about these fascinating sea creatures!
1. They have difficulty swimming and move in unusual ways
Although they are classified as fish, seahorses are not very good or fast swimmers. They are the slowest-moving fish in the sea due to the small size of the fin located on their backs, which is their only method of propulsion. Since this fin is so small, it hinders them from traveling long distances, and when the waves get rough in stormy weather, seahorses can die of exhaustion.
What makes these creatures special in the water is their ability to move forward, backward, up, and down. In addition, the shape of their heads enables them to swim quietly and stealthily. While seahorses may be slow swimmers, they use their bodies like a spring and neck bones like a crossbow to catch prey incredibly fast, according to Professor Roi Holzman of the School of Zoology at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences.
2. They are monogamous and dance for their mates
Wild seahorses tend to stay with their partners for a very long time, and some even mate for life! They live in areas with low density populations, have to camouflage themselves to avoid predators, and, as previously mentioned, are not the best swimmers. This means it can be challenging and risky to find a mate, according to the Smithsonian.
Bonding with a single partner allows them to go through several pregnancies each mating season, giving them a better chance of reproducing. Seahorses also go on “dates” each morning by performing ritualistic-looking dances, twisting and twirling their bodies in a variety of different ways to keep their mates engaged. These movements serve a variety of purposes: they strengthen their bond, demonstrate that their reproductive cycles are well matched, and confirm that they are committed to one another.
3. The male gets pregnant and gives birth
Seahorse males incubate embryos in their tail pouches. According to the University of Sydney, the pouch contains a placenta and is comparable to a female mammal’s uterus. The fathers provide nutrients and oxygen to their unborn offspring, and they have some genetic similarities to mammalian pregnancies.
During labor, male seahorses bend their body towards their tails while pressing and then relaxing. The pouch briefly opens while the body jerks, allowing seawater to flush the pouch. Eventually, hundreds of seahorse babies are ejected. Baby seahorses are known as “fry,” and it is believed that less than 1 percent live to become reproducing adults.
4. They are excellent masters of disguise
Seahorses can change color and blend into their environment in order to avoid predators. They can change their appearances so quickly that it sometimes deters prey from attacking them.
Seahorses use tiny, sack-like organs embedded in their skin called chromatophores to change color, according to Discover Wildlife. These chromatophores contain different pigments, and they expand and contract to produce different colors at different intensities. A seahorse’s nervous system activates the chromatophores to avoid predators.
5. They do not have stomachs and eat constantly
Seahorses have different digestive systems compared to most marine species in that they do not have stomachs. As a result, the food that they eat and the way they feed is unique. Seahorses live in shallow and tropical waters around the globe and eat shrimp, krill, larvae, and algae, according to Outdoor Life Expert.
They do not need a stomach to store and digest these nutrients. Instead, their food disintegrates as soon as it enters the snout. The pancreas aids the intestines to break down the food. Seahorses need a lot of nutrition, so they eat constantly. In a single day, a baby seahorse can consume as much as 3,000 pieces of food!
Want to sea them in person?
Don’t fret, the magic of the sea is right at your fingertips. Saddle up and see our beloved seahorses! Find a Ripley’s Aquarium near you and dive into adventure!
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com