Seahorse

Family: Syngnathidae
Scientific Name: Hippocampus zosterae
Close Relatives: Other seahorses, pipefishes, seadragons

Tigertail Seahorse (picture taken on Similand Islands - Thailand)

Overview

A seahorse is a type of fish closely related to pipefishes and belonging to the scientific family Syngnathidae. About 35 species of seahorses occur worldwide. The seahorse's scientific genus name Hippocampus is a Greek word meaning "bent horse." Depending on the species, seahorses reach lengths of about 5 to 36 cm (2-14 in.).
Seahorses are found in temperate and tropical waters. The longsnout seahorse (Hippocampus reidi) and the Northern seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) live in the Caribbean region of the Western Atlantic. The common seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) lives in the Mediterranean Sea and warm areas of the Atlantic. The yellow seahorse (Hippocampus kuda) lives in the Indo-Pacific. The Pacific seahorse (Hippocampus ingens) is the only seahorse on the eastern Pacific coast (found from California to Peru).

Seahorses are well camouflaged among the eelgrasses and seaweeds in which they make their homes. A seahorse often moors itself in the water by curling its prehensile tail around seagrasses and coral branches. The seahorse's small mouth, located at the end of its narrow tubelike snout, sucks up tiny plankton and fish larvae. Seahorses have been described as voracious eaters. Seahorses swim upright. Pectoral fins on the sides and a small dorsal fin on the back of a seahorses's body wave rapidly to move the seahorse through the water.

Predators

Many larger fishes prey on seahorses. The tiny juvenile seahorses are eaten by other fishes and by crustaceans and anemones. Humans collect seahorses for many uses. Seahorses use camouflage as their defense against predators, and some species can change colors to match their surroundings. Seahorses and pipefishes are heavily exploited around the world, for use as traditional medicines, aquarium fishes, and curios. At least 40 nations are now involved in a trade which consumes at least 20 million dried seahorses annually and several hundred thousand more live seahorses. These quirky fishes are now a valuable commodity, providing important income for many subsistence fishers. Demand for seahorses will continue to grow as China's economy expands, but all evidence indicates that current high levels of extraction are already causing marked decline of fished populations. Project Seahorse is an integrated program of seahorse conservation and management, working to ensure long term persistence of wild seahorse populations while still respecting human needs and aspirations.

Appearance

Pygmy or dwarf seahorses are found in a range of colors from black, green, or dull brown to golden yellow. They are approximately 2 to 4½ centimeters (¾ to 1¾ inches) long. Seahorses are remarkable for their long, tubelike snouts and for their prehensile tails, which they use to hold onto objects

Habitat and Range

Dwarf or pygmy seahorses live in seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

Reproduction

The tiny young seahorses are born fully formed. They receive no parental care and are independent from birth. Seahorses reach maturity in approximately six months.

Longevity

The exact length of the brief life span of seahorses is not known. It is estimated to be from one to four years, depending on the species.

Status

The World Conservation Monitoring Centre's IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals classifies the dwarf or pygmy seahorse as "vulnerable." That means it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future. Seahorses can't produce young quickly enough to replace the huge numbers that are fished from the wild for medicines, as pets and as souvenirs.

Did you know ... ?

Unlike most fishes, seahorses and their relatives don't have scales. They have bony plates under their skin, like a suit of armor. The plates provide protection from predators, but, for some species, they make the body semirigid. Because of this, seahorses and their relatives don't move their bodies in a wavelike fashion. Instead, they glide gracefully by fanning their delicate fins faster than the eye can see.
Seahorses are monogamous. One male and one female form a pair bond and mate repeatedly and exclusively
during the mating season.

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