This week, Deputy Editor Emily Calder investigates the Seahorse, one of the quirkiest marine creatures
The term ‘Seahorse’ actually encapsulates 45 species of fish, all of whom originate from the genus of ‘Hippocampus,’ derived from the Ancient Greek for horse and sea monster. They are best known for their tails, which grip onto weeds and keep them from being washed away by currents, and iconic horse-like heads.
Seahorses live in shallow, weedy grass underwater, and prefer to move into deeper waters in the winter time. In terms of diet, they are pretty hungry creatures; they dine on small crustaceans primarily, eating between 30-50 times a day. The babies (Seahorse fry) are absolute snafflers, averaging 3000 pieces of food a day! Their snouts are long and thin and help them to probe for and ‘vacuum’ food, which must be useful considering how regularly they eat.
These creatures are primarily known, however, for their unusual pregnancies. The male seahorse has a true reversed pregnancy – the female gives him her eggs and he self-fertilises within his pouch. Babies receive everything they need within the pouch, including oxygen and food. The pregnancies can last from two to four weeks, and labour can last up to twelve hours – finally, a male species having a taste of the female experience!
Seahorses live between one and five years, but the fry typically have a less than 1% survival rate – unsurprising, considering all the food they need. There are two species native to the UK – the long-snouted seahorse and the short-snouted seahorse, but all seahorses’ habitats are currently at risk due to pollution. I personally can think of few better reasons to look after the planet than to save what is definitely the quirkiest creature in the sea.