Scientific Name: Hippocampus zosterae
Close Relatives: Other seahorses, pipefishes, seadragons
Seahorse (picture taken on Similand Islands - Thailand)
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.
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
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
Dwarf or pygmy seahorses live in seagrass beds in the Gulf
of Mexico, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
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.
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.
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.
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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