Seahorses are truly unique, not just because of their unusual equine shape, but also unlike most fish, they are monogamous and mate for life. They are among the only animal species on Earth where the male bears the unborn young.
Found in shallow tropical and temperate waters throughout the world, these upright swimmers can range in size from 0.6 inches (1.5 centimeters) to 14 inches (35 centimeters) long, and have a life span of 1 to 5 years.
Because of their body shape, seahorses are rather inept swimmers and can easily die of exhaustion when caught in storm-roiled seas. They propel themselves by using a small fin on their back that flutters up to 35 times per second. Even smaller pectoral fins located near the back of the head are used for steering. They avoid predators by mimicking the colour of underwater plants.
Male seahorses are equipped with a brood pouch on their ventral, or front-facing, side. Their courtship dance usually lasts for eight hour which includes spinning around, swimming side by side and changing colours. When mating, the female deposits her eggs into his pouch, and the male fertilizes them internally. He carries the eggs in his pouch until they hatch, then releases fully formed, miniature seahorses into the water; as few as 5 or as many as 1,500 young can be born.
They anchor themselves with their prehensile tails to sea grasses and corals, using their elongated snouts to suck in plankton and small crustaceans that drift by. Seahorses have no teeth and no stomach. Food passes through their digestive systems so quickly, they must eat almost constantly to stay alive. Voracious eaters, they graze continually and can consume 3,000 or more brine shrimp per day. It moves each of its eyes independently, so it can follow the activity of passing sea life without giving its presence away.
Population data for most of the world’s 40 seahorse species is sparse. However, worldwide coastal habitat depletion, pollution, and rampant harvesting, mainly for use in Asian traditional medicine, have made several species vulnerable to extinction.