The Seahorse: Discover Their Mystical Charisma
Despite their name, seahorses are fish species, not reptiles or mammals. These remarkable creatures can swim upside down and even backward! And did you know that male carries the young in a pouch and gives birth to them, not females?
Seahorses have many more fascinating secrets, so keep reading to learn everything you never knew about these amazing equine-lookalike fish!
Hippocampus Animal, The Most Graceful Creature In The Water!
Throughout history, seahorses have been widely considered the most graceful creatures in the ocean!
In Ancient Greek mythology, hippocampi were portrayed as aquatic horses or sea monsters with the head and front legs of a horse but the tail of dolphins or fish. The sea god, Poseidon, rode in a chariot drawn by hippocampi, sometimes carrying their master right out of the water!
Seahorse’s Natural History
The seahorse is a fish belonging to the genus Hippocampus and the family Syngnathidae, which includes pipefishes and seadragons.
The name Syngnathidae comes from the Ancient Greek σύν, meaning “together,” and γνάθος, meaning “jaw.” All the creatures in the family have a common trait of a fused jaw, which is where the name comes from.
Here is an overview of the seahorse’s fossil record.
Unfortunately, the fossil record of seahorses is somewhat sparse. However, in studies of specimens of Hippocampus guttulatus found in Rimini Province, Italy, fossils were dated to the Lower Pliocene period, around 3 million years ago.
Hippocampus slovenicus and Hippocampus sarmaticus are two pipefish-like creatures found in Slovenia and are thought to date back around 13 million years. These are thought to be the earliest recorded seahorse fossils.
Further research suggests that seahorses and pipefish diverged during the late Oligocene period. Early seahorses evolved to inhabit large areas of shallow water and seagrass habitats, where the Hippocampus developed its upright posture as a means of camouflage and to capture small prey items more efficiently.
It is thought there are around 46 species of seahorses currently in existence, but that number is increasing constantly!
Since the Long snouted seahorse was discovered in 1812, many more species have been found, including the following:
- West Australian seahorse (1873)
- Flatface seahorse (1877)
- Hedgehog seahorse (1912)
- Bullneck seahorse (1997)
As recently as 2020, Hippocampus nalu, or Sodwana pygmy seahorse, was found. So, who knows how many more species of this secretive, mysterious creature could be hiding undetected in the world’s oceans, just waiting to be discovered!
What Does A Seahorse Look Like?
Seahorses have an equine appearance with long-snouted heads, arched necks, and a distinctive body shape and tail.
These are classified as bony fish, having skin stretched over a number of bony plates rather than scales. The bony plates are arranged in a specific number of rings, depending on the seahorse species. Thanks to this external skeleton, the seahorse doesn’t have ribs.
Seahorses range in size from a tiny 1.5 inches to as large as 14 inches.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Satomi’s pygmy seahorse is the smallest species, measuring only 13.8 mm in length, smaller than your fingernail, and just 11.5 mm tall!
The largest seahorse is the Big-belly seahorse, which can grow to measure 14 inches long.
A seahorse has one eye on either side of its head. The eyes can move independently of each other, allowing the creature to look backward and forward at the same time as it searches for food.
The seahorse has a flexible, arched neck and a crown-like horn on its head called a “coronet,” which is different for every species.
Where Do Seahorses Live?
Seahorses are found in temperate and tropical waters around the world. Most species inhabit coral reefs and shallow seagrass beds in the Indo-Pacific, while others live in the oceans of New Zealand and Australia.
US waters have one seahorse species, Hippocampus Erectus, found on the west coast of North America around California.
Most true seahorses live in the marine environment. However, there are several species, including Hippocampus capensis, that can live in brackish estuaries as they can tolerate a wide range of salinity.
Occasionally, you’ll see seahorses advertised for sale as freshwater species. However, these are actually freshwater pipefish, as true seahorses cannot live in freshwater.
The seahorse anchors itself around a fixed base using its prehensile tail and then waits, motionless, for prey to come along within striking range. Now you can see why these animals have such incredible camouflage!
Seahorses don’t have teeth, nor do they have a stomach in which to store the food they eat. That means the seahorse must eat constantly so that it doesn’t starve. So, the animal must use its long snout to vacuum up food items in a pretty much constant cycle.