Beach Creatures – The Seahorse

Among the rarest of creatures in the sea

photo of The Seahorse
Seahorse image courtesy of JoshBerglund19
(click on image to enlarge)

That seahorses are monogamous for life makes them one of the most rare fishes in the sea; they are extremely rare in that it is the male, not the female, seahorse that carries the fertilized eggs in a “brood pouch” until they hatch, perfectly formed tiny little seahorses.

Grouping in herds, much like their mammalian counterparts, seahorses can live between 1 and 5 years, and grow between 1/2” (1.5cm) and 14” (35cm) tall. Among fish, seahorses are about the worst swimmers of the lot. The small fins on their backs flutter like little wings up to 35 times per second, but their elongated bodies are not, like most fish, dynamically designed to move through water smoothly and without resistance. Because of this, seahorses can actually die of exhaustion when fighting to swim in choppy or turbulent seas.

There are 35 species of seahorses, some of which are, sadly, close to extinction. They are harmless to man, but have been used in some forms of Asian medicine, part of the reason for declining numbers. They are big eaters, given their small size, ingesting food by sucking it through their tubular snouts; they have no teeth and no stomachs.

Seahorses are cute. They come in shades from black and grey to red and yellow, and some of them appear almost transparent. Their likeness to horses draws humans to them and they have become part of our imaginations, from fairytales to literature and poetry.

Found in shallow, temperate to tropical waters, seahorses are more fragile than many other fish and cannot withstand extreme currents or cold waters, but if ocean swells pull them, they use their tails to anchor themselves on sea grasses or coral reefs until the blustering has passed.

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