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The Seahorse: What Makes It So Amazing?

Updated on April 23, 2016
Seahorse at the Ripley Aquarium, Gatlinburg, TN (Taken October 2007).
Seahorse at the Ripley Aquarium, Gatlinburg, TN (Taken October 2007). | Source

Seahorses Are Really Fascinating Creatures

They're so ugly they're beautiful. Half-horse, half-fish, 100-percent unique in the animal world. The Latin name for their genus, Hippocampus , says it all. It comes from two Greek words "hippos," translated "horse" and "kampos," which is roughly translated as "sea monster."

The seahorse may look like a monster, but it is anything but. It is really too small to do any harm to anyone. Seahorses range in size from half an inch to 14 inches.

There are so many things that make the seahorse one of the most interesting members of the animal kingdom. Here are just a few.

The seahorse's brother, the pipefish.
The seahorse's brother, the pipefish.

Unique Body Design = One Really Bad Swimmer

The seahorse is very closely related to the pipefish, which shares its taxonomic family, Syngnathidae. But the seahorse's body differs from the pipefish (and all other fish) in a few crucial ways.

First, seahorses have "crowns" on the top of their heads. These crowns are like human fingerprints in that no two are exactly alike. The seahorse's skeleton is covered by a thin skin that rapidly changes color in response to its environment for camouflage purposes.

The seahorse has a dorsal fin on the back of its head that flutters about 37 times per second. This rapid movement helps propel the seahorse forward in an upright, vertical position. Two pectoral fins, one behind each independently-moving eye, help the seahorse steer itself in the right direction. Unlike most other fish, the seahorse does not have a caudal fin.

Because of the way its body is designed, the seahorse is a terribly weak swimmer. If caught in especially rough water, the seahorse will most likely die. You can often find a seahorse in a stationary position with its prehensile tail wrapped around some sort of plant life. The seahorse is the only fish that compares that well to a monkey.

How Little Seahorses Are Made

Before mating, seahorses go through an extensive courting period that lasts for several days. During this time, the male and female seahorses “get to know each other” by linking tails, swimming next to each other, and coordinating their movements.

After the female decides (for it is completely up to her) that this is the male she wants to be her mate, the two begin an eight-hour courtship dance. The male shows that his egg pouch (which is in front of his body) is empty, and the female deposits up to thousands of eggs into this pouch. The male releases sperm into the water, where the eggs are fertilized. Then they are implanted into the pouch walls, and the daddy seahorse gives them a dose of prolactin, which is the same hormone that leads to milk production in mammals.

Seahorse Mating Ritual in Action

The Male Seahorse Gives Birth

Once the eggs have been deposited, the female leaves, but she comes back regularly throughout the gestation period for short visits. Full gestation can take anywhere from 1-6 weeks. At the end of this time, the male will release a few hundred little seahorses into the water, and his parenting role is done.

With his egg pouch empty, the male seahorse is immediately available for mating again. Often, the female seahorse will return and deposit more eggs the next day. Seahorses are usually monogamous for at least an entire mating season, but they do not mate for life, as some people believe.

Male Seahorse Delivering His Babies


Seahorses Do Not Make Good Pets

Wild seahorses usually do not do well in home aquaria. Since they need to eat hundreds to thousands of brine shrimp a day, feeding them can get really expensive. They are also liable to experience a great deal of stress from being removed from the wild, and this can significantly weaken their immune systems.

If you’re thinking about getting a seahorse as a pet, you might want to consider buying one that’s been bred in captivity. These seahorses can eat frozen crustaceans that you can get at any aquarium store. And, more importantly, they are not as susceptible to the negative effects of stress.

You need to do some research before introducing a seahorse into an existing aquarium. They do not coexist well with many fish species. Some ideal aquarium buddies include shrimp and the beautiful neon goby.

But They Do Make Great Medicine

More than 20 million wild seahorses are caught each year to supply the Chinese medical market. Seahorses are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to cure a variety of ailments.

Ingesting the seahorse is said to be good for toning the kidneys, solving the problems of incontinence and frequent urination.

It also has a stimulating effect on the circulatory and reproductive systems. Both male and female fertility can be increased by eating seahorses. Seahorses have been shown to reverse impotence in men, and they lengthen the fertile period for women and strengthen the uterus.

Because of the popularity of this medicine, and the lack of regulations regarding fishing of seahorses, overfishing has become a problem in recent years. And now the seahorse is thought to be in danger of becoming extinct.

A Great Way to Enjoy Seahorses

I’ve always been fascinated by the seahorse, and now it looks like my two-year-old is beginning to see their beauty, too. But, for now, I think we’ll just enjoy them through videos and photos - and in public aquariums.

The picture I used at the beginning of this hub was one I took at Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, TN. My husband and I went there on our honeymoon. It’s a great way to enjoy the wonders of the sea without actually having to go there. And I know that, even though the seahorse in that tank isn’t happily in the wild, at least it’s happier than if it was living in an aquarium that I was trying to take care of!


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