Under the Sea — April 10, 2015 at 5:00 am

The Modern Family Of The Surf: Seahorse Rearing

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Seahorses occupy the shallow, coastal waters of the world’s great tropical reefs. Aside from their quirky appearances, seahorses also exhibit an atypical parenting technique amongst the animal kingdom—and that “technique” is paternal in nature. “Moms, put your hands up! Because the dads are watching the kids tonight. After all, they gave birth to them.”

They Speak Fluent Latin
All fifty-two species of seahorse belong to the genus Hippocampus, literally translated to “sea monster horse”; hippo for “horse” and kampus for “sea monster.” Seahorses were aptly named for their peculiar elongated neck and body-like-plated armor that resembled a knight’s steed.

Going With The Flow
Seahorses, of all species, find refuge in the well-protected, manicured confides of sea grass, tight-knit reef systems, and mangroves. Here, they’re often seen clung-on to branching bodies of kelp or coral, camouflaging effortless into the background; numerous species of seahorse have evolved to almost mirror their environments.

Wild As Their Earth-Bound Cousins
Much like the galloping creatures they’re named after, seahorses have large stomping grounds. While males are homebodies at heart, rarely traveling further than a few square-feet from their territories, females will, often times, embark on odysseys, trudging tens of miles in search of male suitors and ideal home territories.

The Seahorse Fanny Pack Never Went Out of Style
Now entails the central question you’re wondering: “Do the male seahorses really give birth to the female’s offspring. And, if that is true, how do they?” The quick-‘n’-dirty answer to that is yes, yes they do—but not in the manner you’re likely imagining. And, like any well-told fable, we’ll begin at, well, the beginning.

Males will seek out reproductive females during the mating season—and simultaneously rehearse their aquatic two-step. Once the male’s engaged a suitable female, the two will begin ritualized courtship that may very well last upwards of two or three days; this lengthy time span is thought to give the male time to anatomically prepare for the paternal task to come. Successfully swooned, the female will then, via her ovipastor, impregnate the fertile male with her soon-to-be fertilized eggs—but where?

Male seahorse tote a forward-facing ventral pouch that, when deposited with the female’s one-thousand or so eggs, will house the couple’s developing brood. And, after about thirty days, the male will “give birth” to his mini-me’s by a series of muscular abdominal contractions. Yep, that’s right—contractions. Once all the young have been expelled from his swollen abdominal pouch, the now father—and absent mother—will leave their babies to fend for themselves. Regardless, seahorse have one of the highest survival rates of any fish species, averaging an one-percent maturation rate amongst the newly-birthed young.

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