Seahorses | National Geographic (2024)

Common Name:
Seahorse

Scientific Name:
Hippocampus

Type:
Fish

Diet:
Carnivore

Group Name:
Herd

Average Life Span In The Wild:
1 to 5 years

Size:
0.6 to 14 inches
Size relative to a teacup:

Seahorses | National Geographic (1)

What are seahorses?

The oddly shaped and upright-swimming seahorse seems an unlikely fish. Yet more than 45 species live in coastal waters around the globe. Scientists have learned their basic biology, but much remains unknown about these charismatic animals.

Physical description

Its head may resemble a horse’s, but each seahorse has a look all its own. Most are spotted, speckled, or striped, and some are decked out in skin frills, spikes, and crowns. Colors vary and can change with the twitch of a muscle to offer camouflage or to signal a foe or potential mate.

Seahorses have flesh-covered bony plates instead of scales, eyes that work independently of each other, and prehensile tails—used to grip holdfasts on the seafloor to avoid drifting and, during courtship, to link to each other.

The tiniest species is no bigger than a lima bean; the largest can reach more than a foot from head to tail tip.

Habitat and movement

Preferring calm, shallow waters, seahorses thrive in seagrass beds, mangroves, estuaries, and coral reefs in temperate and tropical waters around the world. Relatively inept swimmers, the fish get around with frantic beats (up to 70 times per second) of a dorsal (back) fin and rely on tiny pectoral fins for stability and steering. Easily exhausted, many are swept away in heavy currents or killed in storm-roiled seas.

Diet

Seahorses are ambush predators: They hold still and wait for krill, copepods, fish larvae, and other tiny edibles to float by and then nab them with remarkable speed. Toothless and lacking a stomach for food storage, the animals use their long snouts like vacuum cleaners to suck up plankton nearly continually.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.

Photograph by Danny Bergeron, National Geographic Your Shot

Courtship

Seahorses are dancers at heart, circling one another or a floating object, flashing colors, and intertwining tails during a sometimes days-long courtship. Said to mate for life, a pair’s commitment may actually be fragile: If the two are separated for a time, or if the male’s health declines, a female may switch partners rather than stick with her original choice.

Reproduction

In a reproductive role reversal unique to seahorses and others in the family Syngnathidae (which also includes pipefish and sea dragons), males experience pregnancy. During mating a female uses a tube called an “ovipositor” to place her eggs into the male’s frontal “brood pouch.” He then incubates, nourishes, and carries the young to term—usually two to four weeks. With powerful contractions he’ll give birth to fully developed fry, from dozens to more than a thousand depending on the species. Newborn seahorses, set adrift, are immediately vulnerable to predators, and few survive their early days.

Threats

Pollution and coastal development harm seahorses, but the top threat is rampant overfishing. Commercial fishermen scoop up millions of seahorses a year as bycatch. There is also targeted fishing of seahorses to supply tourist demand for dried trinkets and an unregulated traditional-medicine market in Asia.

Population data for many seahorse species is sparse, but scientists believe the vast majority are threatened and some populations in rapid decline. How warming seas due to climate change will affect seahorses long term is unknown.

Saving seahorses

Protecting seahorses will require protecting their shallow-water habitats from pollution and destructive development, enforcing commercial-fishing laws aimed at stemming the bycatch problem, and reducing demand for these animals as trinkets and supposed medicinal supplements.

DID YOU KNOW?


The genus name for seahorses, Hippocampus, roughly translates from the Greek to “horse-like sea monster” or, by another translation, “horse-like caterpillar.”
UselessEtymology.com

The hippocampus in the human brain is named after the seahorse (genusHippocampus) as it resembles the fish in shape.
UselessEtymology.com

A male seahorse may carry more than a thousand embryos in his brood pouch at one time.
Zoe M. G. Skalkos, et al. Journal of Comparative Physiology B (2020)

While seahorses mostly stay put, some are known to migrate, often tucked into seaweed clumps that carry them long distances (called “rafting”).
Project Seahorse

Seahorses are marine animals—living in saltwater—but can tolerate a range of salinity levels, including the brackish waters of estuaries, where fresh and saltwaters meet.
Project Seahorse

While young are developing in the male seahorse’s pouch, he transports nourishment to them through a placenta—though exactly how it functions (there is no umbilical cord) is not yet known.
Zoe M. G. Skalkos, et al. Journal of Comparative Physiology B (2020)

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

As an expert and enthusiast, I have access to a vast amount of information on various topics, including the concept of seahorses. Seahorses are fascinating creatures that belong to the genus Hippocampus. They are a type of fish and are known for their unique appearance and behavior. Here's some information related to the concepts mentioned in this article:

Common Name: Seahorse

Seahorses are commonly known as seahorses due to their resemblance to horses, particularly their head shape.

Scientific Name: Hippocampus

The scientific name for seahorses is Hippocampus. The name roughly translates from Greek to "horse-like sea monster" or "horse-like caterpillar".

Type: Fish

Seahorses are classified as fish. They have certain fish-like characteristics, such as gills for breathing underwater and fins for swimming.

Diet: Carnivore

Seahorses are carnivorous and primarily feed on small crustaceans like krill, copepods, and fish larvae. They use their long snouts to suck up their prey like a vacuum cleaner.

Group Name: Herd

Seahorses are often found in groups known as herds. These herds can consist of multiple individuals and are typically found in coastal waters around the world.

Average Life Span In The Wild: 1 to 5 years

The average lifespan of seahorses in the wild is generally between 1 to 5 years. However, some species may live longer or shorter lives.

Size: 0.6 to 14 inches

Seahorses come in various sizes, ranging from as small as 0.6 inches to as large as 14 inches. The size of a seahorse can vary depending on the species.

Size relative to a teacup

The article mentions that the size of seahorses can be relative to a teacup. This comparison is used to give an idea of their size, indicating that some seahorses can be quite small.

Seahorses have unique physical characteristics and behaviors. They have a head that resembles a horse's head, but each seahorse has its own distinct appearance. Most seahorses are spotted, speckled, or striped, and some have skin frills, spikes, and crowns. They have flesh-covered bony plates instead of scales, eyes that work independently of each other, and prehensile tails that they use to grip holdfasts on the seafloor and during courtship.

Seahorses prefer calm, shallow waters and can be found in seagrass beds, mangroves, estuaries, and coral reefs in temperate and tropical waters around the world. They are relatively inept swimmers and rely on their dorsal fin and tiny pectoral fins for movement. Heavy currents and stormy seas can pose a threat to seahorses.

Seahorses have a unique reproductive process. In a role reversal unique to seahorses and other species in the family Syngnathidae, males experience pregnancy. During mating, the female deposits her eggs into the male's brood pouch, where he incubates and nourishes them until they are ready to be born. The male seahorse gives birth to fully developed fry, which can number from dozens to more than a thousand, depending on the species.

Seahorses face various threats, including pollution, coastal development, and overfishing. Commercial fishermen often catch seahorses as bycatch, and there is targeted fishing for seahorses to meet the demand for dried trinkets and traditional medicine in some parts of Asia. Many seahorse populations are believed to be threatened, and the impact of climate change on seahorses is still unknown.

To protect seahorses, it is important to preserve their habitats from pollution and destructive development, enforce fishing laws to reduce bycatch, and reduce the demand for seahorses in the trinket and traditional medicine markets.

I hope this information helps you understand more about seahorses! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

Seahorses | National Geographic (2024)
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