S is for Seahorse

Another unique animal, sea horses have the head of a horse with a tube-shaped snout, pouch of a kangaroo and tail of a monkey; they resemble the capital letter "5." They are a vertebrate fish growing to 6-12 inches in size. There are many species in many colors. They curl their tail around vegetation, rock and coral to hold themselves in place; they also float free over grass and on the reef. Their eyes do not look forward; one sees right and one sees left. Sea horses have an upper and lower jaw, but do not have teeth. They are covered with a bony plate of "armor" that protects this little animal, but it also limits their movement. Seahorses are poor swimmers and they spend most of their time stationary, held by their tail. When they do swim, they propel themselves by a transparent back fin that can beat 20-30 times per second. Their up and down motion is controlled through the volume of gas in their bodies. Researchers estimate seahorses live approximately 4 years if they make a full lifespan. The natural predators that adult seahorses face are tuna, crabs, and rays. When storms hit the sea many seahorses die because they lose hold of whatever they have wrapped their tail around.

These animals live in coastal waters in sea grass beds, on coral reefs, and in mangroves. They camouflage themselves to blend into their environment by changing colors.

The seahorse uses its snout to suck up microscopic animals in the water for feeding. The diet of seahorses includes invertebrates such as worms, crustaceans, small shrimp and plankton. Sea horses generally remain stationary and suck up their microscopic prey when the prey moves past.

Seahorses are monogamous; they mate with one partner for life. Some researchers believe that long-term pairing enables seahorses to become efficient and effective baby-making teams. On the other hand, each pair only produces up to 1,000 young per year, very low by fish reproductive standards. The reproductive process is unique. Seahorses mate during the full moon after several days of an elaborate mating ritual that includes body color changes and swimming in patterns. The female makes 200-600 eggs and deposits them in the male's brood pouch where fertilization and transfer of nutrients take place. After 3-6 weeks the male gives birth, leaving the babies to fend for themselves. Very few survive.

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