One of the most beautiful and fortunate things that you could ever see in the ocean is a male and female seahorse performing their daily pre-dawn dances of Love.
In this celebration of Life itself, these children of Nature intertwine their tails and swim together. This is where the reproductive process begins. This performance evolves into a courtship and mating dance lasting up to eight hours.
The female seahorse then lovingly deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch to be fertilized before her male partner finally gives birth to their magical offspring.
Male seahorses not only pass through pregnancy like the females of other species but also carry their eggs in a pouch like a female kangaroo or flyer. There is only one difference between them. Once the seahorse eggs hatch, they no longer return to the father’s pouch as kangaroos do with their mothers.
Baby seahorses float away free!
Female seahorses produce thousands of eggs at a time. Male seahorses on the other hand can give birth and get pregnant again on the same day– quite a feat, isn’t it?
Isn’t it strange that such a small fish– measuring less than an inch to a foot (one to 30 centimeters)– is so attached to his eggs? How could such a minuscule being feel so much– and care so much for his unborn young?
But none of this is for nothing. The global dispersion of seahorses suggests that his species is at least 20 million years old– compared to our meager existence of 120,000 years since our emergence as dawn apes! He himself on the other hand can live five years at most– boo hoo!”
Once seahorse babies are born, they need to fend for themselves. Life is a savage battle for food and survival. Sometimes even their own fathers will eat them. Think yourself lucky that you are alive!
Their swimming is so painfully slow that every single larger predator could swallow them whole in moments. Man of course poses his major threat– pollution, traditional medicine, and overfishing.
Nor do seahorses live forever.
Five years is the longest they could ever hope for!
Here is how seahorses protect their young
- The perfect habitat
- Carrying the eggs in their pouch
Seahorses change their color like chameleons. He uses small sack-like organs, called chromatophores to blend in and disappear in the metre of seaweed, seagrass or coral reef that he calls his home. The pigments in these chromatophores permit him to change from white to black to green to red!
Seahorses use muscles to contract or expand these chromatophores and change their colors. His nervous system and hormones contribute to his magical transformation.
Imagine that– changing your natural color to blend into your surroundings– and just disappear into the endless ocean. Isn’t that a refreshing thought– to be totally safe from predators– and free as a bird? Like Mystique, the mutant evil shape-shifter in the X-Men!
Males and female seahorses can even change their color to attract their mates. It is a prelude to the courtship and mating dances, their dances of Love and Life.
Sea horses change to bold colors to ward off their enemies– to bright flashes of orange or even red– how scary is that!
The correct habitat is essential for seahorses to survive. By inhabiting a multitude of nooks and crannies in tropical and temperate coastal waters all around the world, seahorses manage to stay away from danger.
Once born, the male seahorse no longer cares for his tender offspring. But how could he! Or rather, how could he possibly protect so many of them? Up to three thousand little seahorses are born to the same father at the same time!
The mother is also missing in action and carries on with her life, paddling around, munching on up to three hundred shrimps per hour, courting, mating, and passing on the responsibilities to her longsuffering male mate.
This is a strange phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Normally the mother guides her offspring until the little ones have honed their survival skills. Like the mother cheetah that teaches her cubs how to stalk, chase and pounce during their first year.
But the female seahorse has donated thousands upon thousands of eggs, countless little pieces of potential Life. Isn’t that enough?
Threats include predators and ocean currents that mercilessly drag them away from their feeding grounds that are rich in microscopic organisms.
Due to these dangers, only five seahorses in a thousand survive to adulthood.
Luckily due to the consistent birth of more seahorses, their survival rate is high compared to other fish species. Female salmon produce up to 17,000 babies– but only three of them live to adulthood– if they are lucky!
The survival of seahorses is of course due to a safe environment inside the male’s pouch protecting them in the early stage of development.
Breeders struggle to keep these baby seahorses alive. They are incredibly small and numerous but identical to their mums and dads. There can be up to two thousand at a time, being either female or male, making it impossible to lavish care on each and every tiny one of them.
The main challenge is to keep the offspring alive once hatched– baby seahorses cannot eat plankton or shrimps yet because of their tiny mouths. Special food needs to be grown for them to eat.
Baby seahorses– like the rest of us– require tender loving care to survive to adulthood.
Carrying The Eggs In His Pouch
Male seahorses and their pipefish and sea dragon relatives are the only male sea creatures that carry their young. Pipefish and sea dragons carry their eggs in the area of their tails. Male seahorses on the other hand have pouches that are attached to their stomachs.
In the inside of the pouch, the baby seahorses develop tiny snouts, eyes, and tails. This takes around twenty days.
During the pregnancy, the male makes sure that the level of salt in the water is sufficient. He also experiences contractions once the babies are ready to be born.
This must be terrifying, painful, and exhilarating at the same time!