Saturday, December 17, 2011

Seahorses

The scientific name Hippocampus comes from Ancient Greek – hippos for horse and kampos for sea monster.

The smallest seahorse found to date was discovered off the coast of Indonesia. This species is only a little bigger than a pea!

Even the largest seahorses at a foot tall (the Big-Belly Seahorse, Hippocampus abdominalis) would make pretty small sea monsters, and are way too cute to be scary.

Seahorses are a type of fish but they don’t have scales. There are more than 50 species that can be identified by the number of bony plate rings covering their bodies. Their tail fins look a bit like a monkey’s tail and can be used in a similar fashion. Seahorses wrap their tail fins around sea grass or coral to hold themselves in place with the moving water around them.

video

One of the common fun facts about seahorses is that the males are the ones that “give birth.” The females insert their eggs into a brood pouch in the male. The brood pouch is a safe spot for the eggs develop into baby seahorses. When it is time to emerge, you see them leaving the pouch, which looks like giving birth.

Like many other ocean animals, people are a large threat for seahorses. Millions of seahorses are caught each year to be used in Chinese medicine for ailments ranging from asthma to acne. They are said to help balance energy in the body.

The aquarium trade also seeks out to collect seahorses from the wild as they are a beautiful ornamental addition to fish tank connoisseurs. Aquaculture facilities are working to change this practice by breeding seahorses in captivity for aquarium use. This way, seahorses aren’t taken from their natural habitats in the wild.  

My favorite seahorse memory was a behind the scenes trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. I got to tour the breeding facility where they raised thousands of seahorses for the National Aquarium and other aquariums around the country and even as far away as Portugal.

There were tanks everywhere I looked full of seahorses of all different sizes. Lots of little babies too like the ones at the end of this video from the New England Aquarium.

The Leafy Seadragons (Phycodurus eques) are another popular seahorse relative found in the aquarium trade. The National Aquarium at Baltimore bred those too at the time. On the aquarium market they would catch a few thousand dollars, the kicker being they don’t live that long in captivity! 

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Photo and video by Sara MacSorley.