The seahorse is a well-known inhabitant of the water depths. It is remembered due to the unusual shape of the body, which makes one wonder: is the seahorse a fish or an animal? In fact, there is a definite answer to this question. Also, these creatures have many unusual secrets related to their habitat, lifestyle and distribution.
The origin of the species and description
Seahorses belong to the genus of ray-finned fish from the order of needle-shaped. Studies conducted on seahorses have shown that seahorses are a highly modified subspecies of pipefish. Like needle fish, seahorses have an elongated body shape, a peculiar structure of the oral cavity, and a long mobile tail. There are not many remains of seahorses found – the earliest date back to the Pliocene, and the separation of pipefish and seahorses occurred in the Oligocene.
The reasons are not exactly established, but the following stand out:
- the formation of multiple shallow waters, where the fish often swam as vertically as possible;
- the spread of numerous algae and the occurrence of a current. So the fish had a need to develop the grasping functions of the tail.
There are bright varieties of seahorses that are not unanimously classified as this species by all scientists.
Some of the most colorful seahorses are:
- sea needle. In appearance, it resembles a tiny seahorse with a very elongated thin body;
- spiny seahorse – the owner of strong long needles throughout the body;
- sea dragons, especially leafy ones. They have a characteristic camouflage shape, as if completely covered with leaves and processes of algae;
- the pygmy seahorse is the smallest representative of seahorses, barely exceeding 2 cm in size;
- the Black Sea horse is a species that does not have spines.
Appearance and Features
The seahorse got its name not by chance – its body shape resembles a chess horse. The elongated curved body is distinctly divided into the head, trunk and tail. The seahorse is completely covered with chitinous growths that have a ribbed shape. This gives it a resemblance to algae. The growth of seahorses is different, depending on the species, it can reach 4 cm or 25 cm. It also differs from other fish in that it swims vertically, holding its tail down.
This is due to the fact that the abdominal bladder is located in the abdominal and head parts, and the head bladder is larger than the abdominal one. Therefore, the head seems to “float” up. The fins of the seahorse are small, they function as a kind of “rudder” — with their help, it turns around in the water and maneuvers. Although seahorses swim very slowly, relying on camouflage. There is also a dorsal fin that allows the seahorse to maintain a vertical position at all times.
Interesting fact: Seahorses can look different – sometimes their shape resembles algae, stones and other objects among which they camouflage.
The seahorse has a sharp, elongated muzzle with pronounced large eyes. The seahorse does not have a mouth in the classical sense – it is a tube similar in physiology to the oral cavities of anteaters. He draws himself into the water through a tube to feed and breathe. The color can be very diverse, it also depends on the habitat of the seahorse. The most common species have a gray chitinous cover with rare small black dots. There are types of bright colors: yellow, red, green. Often the bright coloration is accompanied by corresponding fins resembling algae leaves.
The tail of a seahorse is interesting. It is curved, and unbends only with intensive swimming. With such a tail, seahorses can cling to objects in order to hold on during strong currents. The abdominal cavity of seahorses is also noteworthy. The fact is that the reproductive organs are located there. In females it is an ovipositor, while in males it is an abdominal pouch that looks like a hole in the middle of the abdomen.
Where does the seahorse live?
Seahorses prefer tropical and subtropical waters, and the water temperature must be stable.
They are most often found along the following coasts:
Most often they live in shallow water, but there are species that live in depth. Seahorses lead a sedentary lifestyle, hiding in algae and coral reefs. They grab onto various objects with their tails and make occasional dashes from stem to stem. Due to their body shape and color, seahorses are excellent at camouflage.
Some seahorses can change color to match their surroundings. So they disguise themselves from predators and more efficiently get their own food. The seahorse makes long journeys in a peculiar way: it clings to some fish with its tail, and unhooks from it when the fish gets into algae or reefs.
Now you know where the seahorse is found. Let's see what this animal eats.
What does a seahorse eat?
Due to the peculiar physiology of the mouth, seahorses can only eat very small food. It draws water into itself like a pipette, and along with the flow of water, plankton and other small food enter the seahorse's mouth.
Large seahorses can draw in:
- small fish;
- eggs of other fish.
It is difficult to call a seahorse an active predator. Small species of seahorses feed continuously by sucking in water. Large seahorses resort to camouflage hunting: they cling to algae and coral reefs with their tails, waiting for suitable prey to appear nearby.
Seahorses cannot pursue their prey due to their slowness. During the day, small species of seahorses eat up to 3 thousand crustaceans as part of plankton. They feed continuously throughout any time of the day – the fact is that the seahorse does not have a digestive system, so you have to eat constantly.
Interesting fact: It is not uncommon for seahorses to eat larger fish; they are promiscuous in food – the main thing is that the prey fits into the mouth.
In captivity, seahorses eat daphnia, shrimp and special dry food. The peculiarity of feeding at home is that the food must be fresh, and must be supplied regularly, otherwise seahorses can get sick and die.
Character and lifestyle features
Seahorses lead a sedentary lifestyle. The maximum speed that they can develop is up to 150 meters per hour, but they move extremely rarely, if necessary. Seahorses are non-aggressive fish that never attack other fish, even though they are predators. They live in small flocks of 10 to 50 individuals, do not have any hierarchy and structure. An individual from one pack can easily live in another pack.
Therefore, despite the group habitation, seahorses are independent individuals. Interestingly, seahorses can form long-term monogamous pairs. Sometimes such a union lasts the whole life of seahorses. A pair of seahorses – male and male, are formed after the first successful breeding of offspring. In the future, the couple breeds almost continuously, if there are no factors preventing this.
Seahorses are extremely susceptible to all kinds of stress. For example, if a seahorse loses its partner, it loses interest in breeding and may refuse to eat at all, due to which it dies within a day. Also stressful for them is trapping and relocation to aquariums. As a rule, caught seahorses must be adapted by qualified specialists – captured individuals are not transplanted into aquariums with ordinary amateurs.
Wild seahorses take root extremely poorly in home conditions, most often become depressed and die. But seahorses born in aquariums are comfortable living at home.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Seahorses do not have a fixed mating season. Males, reaching puberty, begin to circle around the selected female, demonstrating their readiness for mating. During this period, the soft area of the male chest, not protected by chitin, darkens. The female does not react to these dances, freezes in place and watches the male or several males at once.
Some large species of seahorses are able to inflate the chest bag. This ritual is repeated for several days until the female chooses a male for herself. Before mating, the chosen male may “dance” all day to the point of exhaustion. The female signals to the male that she is ready to mate when she rises closer to the surface of the water. The male follows her, opening his bag. The female's ovipositor expands, she inserts it into the opening of the pouch and spawns directly into the pouch of the male. He fertilizes her along the way.
The number of fertilized eggs largely depends on the size of the male – a large male can fit more eggs in his bag. Small tropical species of seahorses produce up to 60 eggs, large species more than five hundred. Sometimes seahorses form stable pairs that do not break up throughout the life of two individuals. Then mating takes place without rituals – the female simply lays eggs in the male's bag.
Four weeks later, the male begins to release fry from the bag – this process is similar to “shooting”: the bag expands and many fry quickly fly to freedom. To do this, the male swims out to an open area, where the current is the strongest – so the fry will spread over a wide area. Parents are not interested in the further fate of small seahorses.
Natural enemies of the seahorse
Marine Skate is a master of disguise and a secret lifestyle. Due to this, the seahorse has very few enemies that would purposefully hunt this fish.
Sometimes seahorses become food for the following creatures:
- large shrimp feast on small seahorses, cubs and caviar;
- Crabs are enemies of seahorses both underwater and on land. Sometimes seahorses cannot hold on to algae during a storm, which is why they are washed ashore, where they become prey for crabs;
- clownfish live in corals and anemones, where seahorses often live;
- tuna can just eat everything in its path, and seahorses accidentally end up in their diet.
Fun fact: Undigested seahorses have been found in the stomachs of dolphins .
Seahorses are not capable of self-defense, they do not know how to flee. Even the most “fast” subspecies of speed will not be enough to get away from the pursuit. But seahorses are not purposefully hunted, since most of them are covered with sharp chitinous spines and growths.
Population and species status
Most Seahorse species are on the verge of extinction. Data on the number of species is controversial: some scientists identify 32 species, others – more than 50. However, 30 species of seahorses are close to extinction.
The reasons for the disappearance of seahorses are different. They include:
- mass capture of seahorses as a souvenir;
- trapping of seahorses as delicacies;
- environmental pollution;
- climate change.
Seahorses are extremely susceptible to stress – the slightest change in the ecology of their habitat leads seahorses to death. Pollution of the world's oceans kills the population of not only seahorses, but also many other fish.
Interesting fact: Sometimes a seahorse may choose a female that is not yet ready to mate. Then he still performs all the rituals, but as a result, mating does not occur, and then he looks for a new partner.
Most species of seahorses are listed in the Red Book. The status of a protected species was slowly obtained by seahorses, since it is extremely difficult to fix the number of these fish. Long-snouted seahorses were the first to be listed in the Red Book – it was the Red Book of Ukraine in 1994. Conservation of seahorses is hampered by the fact that seahorses die from severe stress. It is impossible to relocate them to new territories, it is difficult to breed them in aquariums and home water parks.
The main measures that are taken to protect skates are as follows:
- ban on catching seahorses – it is included to poaching;
- creation of protected areas with large flocks of seahorses;
- stimulation of the birth rate through artificial feeding of seahorses in the wild.
Measures are not very effective as seahorse trapping is still allowed and very active in Asia and Thailand. So far, the population is saved by the fecundity of these fish – out of a hundred eggs, only one individual survives to adulthood, but this is a record number among most tropical fish.
The seahorse is an amazing and unusual animal. They are distinguished by a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes, being one of the most striking species of fish. It remains to be hoped that measures to protect seahorses will bear fruit, and these fish will continue to exist safely in the vast oceans.