You could easily mistake them for some celestial or mythological creatures that could ride you into another world, if it weren’t for their size! With a horse’s head and a monkey’s tail; they definitely look ethereal. But, scientifically, seahorses are just another fish in our vast and wide oceans. As a reminder of their features even their scientific name is “Hippocampus”; in Greek, “hippo” means horse and “campus” means monster. But that is not the only amazing thing about these little docile creatures.
Here are some more interesting facts.
Although they are categorized as fishes, seahorses do not have scales; instead they have skin that is stretched across their bony plates. These plates are arranged as rings around their trunk. Some seahorses also have crowns, which are actually a group of spines on top of their head and is known as the coronet.
Seahorses come in different colors and designs; it is their way of protecting themselves. In fact they are known as masters of camouflage. They gel with their surrounding by changing color or even growing filaments to help them hide in their environment. Seahorses also change color during their courtship.
Temporary color changing is not the only aspect they share with chameleons. Seahorses also have eyes that function similar to that of chameleons. They can move their eyes in all directions and independent of each other.
Seahorses are predominantly found in tropic and temperate zones and make their homes in mangroves, coral reefs, and estuaries. You can find them clinging to seaweeds and sea grasses. But, unfortunately, the destruction of mangroves and breach of marine space is finally having a say on seahorses.
Some scientists also believe that these creatures are naturally prone to extinction. Some of the factors that contribute to this are their patchy distribution, low birth rates, and prolonged parental care. However, man is also making his own contributions in the form of extensive fishing, urban development, and harvesting of seahorses.
Do you know that seahorses are believed to have medicinal properties? It is an integral part of Asian traditional medicine and is harvested predominantly in these regions. Seahorses are also harvested for use in aquariums and curio trade. The demand for these creatures is so great that this has become a trade in itself and is one of the major contributors for their depletion in natural habitats.
Although water-borne, seahorses are poor swimmers. They are mostly immobile and cling to aquatic vegetation where they can also find their favorite food – brine shrimp. However, don’t underestimate their maneuverability; seahorses can beat their fins at a speed of 50 times per second and can move up and down.
There are around 53 species of seahorses and they can vary from 1 to 14 inches, in length. What sets these aquatic creatures apart is not just their peculiar appearance and slow movement, but also their lifestyle. Seahorses are mostly monogamous and mate for life!
Surprising as it may sound; nature decided on a reversal of roles when it comes to seahorses. The male of the species has kangaroo like pouches within which the female deposits their eggs after a colorful and exciting courtship. Once the male receives the eggs; it settles in some coral or seaweed and waits for the gestation period, which may extend up to a few weeks!
Seahorses have an equally tough child-birth as any other mammal. Their birth duration could vary from a few minutes to a few hours. Probably, seeing his own miniature version is what consoles the dad for all his efforts!