Creature Feature – Sea Horse

Syngnathidae Hippocampus

There are 32 species of sea horses, mainly found in shallow tropical and temperate waters throughout the world. They prefer sheltered areas, such as sea grass beds, coral reefs, or mangroves. The sea horse life span is though to be three to five years in the wild, though it varies by species.

Sea horses can range in size from one fourth of an inch to sixteen inches. Most sea horse species are less than six inches. The sea horse has two pectoral fins for steering, a single dorsal fin which helps move the horse forward, and a small anal fin. The prehensile tail is used to grab onto coral or sea grass to keep the horse from being carried away by the ocean currents. Unlike most fish, sea horses don’t have scales covering their body. Instead they have bony plates under their skin.

The male seahorse is the one who cares for the young. The female lays 12 to 100 eggs in the pouch of the male sea horse. As the eggs attach to the lining of the pouch they are fertilized. The male will carry the eggs for 14-28 days before they hatch. Left on their own after birth, is it thought that only 2 out of 1000 make it to adulthood.

Each year millions of sea horses are taken for traditional Chinese medicine, the pet trade and souvenirs. In the past 5 years the sea horse population is believed to have declined by 50%. They are often taken as a by-catch product of the shrimp and prawn trawl boats. Unlike many by-catch species that are caught and discarded, dead sea horses are worth a great deal of money. Habitat destruction of the grass beds and mangrove swamps has also added to the population decline.

Interesting Facts

The dorsal fin can beat up to 35 times a second.
They change colors to avoid predators. In a matter of seconds, it can change from gray or black to yellow or purple.
A sea horse can use each eye independently, just like a chameleon.
They have no stomach, but a simple digestive tract. They feed on plankton & other larval animals.
A sea horse can suck up prey into their tube mouth from as much as 1.5 inches away.

Information courtesy of

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