Sea horses have intrigued young and old for centuries. Are these sea creatures related to a horse, or are they fish? Here are the 10 cool things we found out about these little creatures.
1. Tiny horses
Seahorses get their name from the way their heads are shaped, because they look very similar to that of a horse with its long snout. But that is where the similarity to a horse ends. Seahorses are actually tiny fish and not related to horses at all. The reason they have long mouths is so that they can reach their food easier, which they suck into their mouths.
2. Minute creatures
The seahorse is a tiny creature, measuring between 2 and 35cm and only weighing around 200g. They have exoskeletons and from their heads down to the points of their tails, they are covered with tiny, bony plates that protect their insides. Seahorses are mainly found between seaweed and plants in tropical and temperate coastal waters.
3. Swimming upright
Although they are tiny fish, they don’t resemble or swim like fish at all. Instead of swimming with their bellies towards the bottom, seahorses swim upright. They mainly do this to avoid predators by mimicking plants and corals in the sea. This way of swimming, however, means he’s not built for speed – he can only travel at about 150cm an hour!
4. Humongous appetites
These little critters don’t have a stomach or teeth and are, therefore, constantly eating. The seahorse’s menu is quite extensive and consists of a variety of plankton and tiny crustaceans, such as shrimp. It is said that they can consume up to 3,000 shrimp a day. They have to disintegrate their food as they eat it and, in order to eat prey bigger than their mouths, their snouts simply expand.
Prey don’t stand a chance to escape these little creatures, as the seahorse’s good eyesight is his main means of finding prey, and he can ‘suck’ his prey in from as far as 3cm away. Each eye also moves independently to watch the activities in the sea.
5. Mommy or daddy?
Once a male and female hook up, they stay together for life. It is said that they often swim with their tales hooked to each other so that the ocean currents don’t sweep one of them away. Seahorses are ovoviviparous, meaning that eggs hatch within the body and the tiny baby seahorses are then born. But, in the case of this creature, the daddy carries the unborn babies, which can be anywhere between 5 or 1,500 babies, in his ‘brood pouch’. Once the babies are born, they hook their tales to their sibling and they have to find their own food, and fight off predators.
6. My territory
While the female’s territory ranges about 100m2, the male only has a territory of about 0.5m2. Their territories overlap and, in the morning, the females will meet up with the male in his territory and he will circle around her. The two of them will often then dance around an object.
7. Chameleon style
Just like chameleons, seahorses can also change colour to match the colour of nearby objects. It is also noted that they sometime change colour during courtship. Then, depending on the species, some of them also look like the plants in which they hide from natural predators.
8. Natural predators
Seahorses don’t have many predators, except for crabs, that actively seek them out, due to their bony bodies that are indigestible. To stay out of harms’ way, they use their prehensile (capable of grasping) tails to hold on to eel grass, seaweeds and plants.
9. Biggest enemy
The seahorse has one big enemy – humans. About 150 million seahorses a year are fished from their natural habitat for the traditional Chinese medicinal trade. Then, people also fish about one million seahorses from the ocean as souvenirs. And, if this is not enough, the pet trade removes about one million of these tiny creatures per year to sell as pets. These delicate creatures are prone to get diseases and it is estimated that less than 1,000 seahorses survive more than six weeks as pets.
10. Myriad of species
According to the Seahorse Trust there are about 54 species of seahorses around the world and new species of seahorses are continually found. Apparently, it is difficult for the researchers to identify the various species due to the individuals of the same species looking so different from one other.