Seahorses are remarkable creatures, aren’t they? But they are small and look defenseless, so how do they even survive in the harsh world under the sea? In this article, we’ll look at all the tools seahorses use to protect themselves.
Seahorses have three main methods for protection. First, they have the ability to camouflage with their surroundings, which renders them practically invisible to predators. The second method is a layer of ‘armor’, which provides both body support and protection. The third method is to hide.
But how does this camouflage work? Does every species of seahorse have this ability? Will a seahorse’s armor protect it from predators? Read on to find out more!
The camouflage mechanism is a feature of the ‘pygmy’ seahorse. There are eight known species of these seahorses, and they reside on the coasts of South East Asia and South Africa.
Seahorses are terribly bad swimmers, so camouflage is used in order to overcome this flaw. The color of the seahorse’s body can alter quickly to match its surroundings, such as colorful coral. In fact, many pygmy seahorses are covered with tubercules and stripes/spots to help them blend in with their background.
Some even have fleshy filaments that mimic coral and other plant life, enhancing this camouflage.
The reason behind this camouflage lies in the seahorse’s cells. Chromatophores embedded in the skin contain pigments that have the ability to contract or expand depending on the stimulus they are in contact with.
This may sound far-fetched, but seahorses are able to withstand being eaten by their predators!
A seahorse has its vertebra protected by a series of 36 plates that slide and glide past each other when they are compressed. This allows the tiny little creature to withstand crushing forces that would certainly destroy millions of other animals.
In fact, a seahorse can survive compression of up to 50%, (half of its body). This is an astonishing defense mechanism and is even being copied by engineers!
But how do these bony plates resist the pressure? The normal bone would be crushed long before 50% compression, because of a high mineral content.
Minerals make bone brittle, so seahorses have adapted to have a reduced mineral content in their bones. Only 40% of a seahorse’s bone consists of minerals; the other 60% consists of water and natural compounds, which allows the bone to resist such great pressure.
In a seahorse’s natural ocean environment, there are plenty of hiding places for them to hide. They can hide behind rocks, plants, driftwood, or even the occasional sunken junk. Hiding is a natural form of protection for any sea creature in its wild environment.
If you have seahorses in an aquarium then you won’t have any predators, but they will probably want places to hide from you at first or from other people or pets that enter the room and spook them. They may even want to hide from you after they get to know you, so it is a good idea to have places called hides in your aquarium.
There are a lot of aquarium decorations you can choose from online to put in your seahorse tank that seahorses can hide in or behind. Everything from caves to rockpiles to little buildings or decorative ships.
In essence, you can provide places for your seahorses to hide in or behind while also decorating your tank to your desired preference.
Species of pygmy seahorse:
- Hippocampus Bargibanti. This was the first pygmy seahorse discovered and was found in 1970. They are found virtually everywhere from Japan to Australia.
- Hippocampus Denise. Discovered in 2003, these seahorses reside in the Gorgonian corals. The young seahorses blend in with their environment in just a few days. This means that this species has great diversity in terms of color and skin texture.
- Hippocampus Pontohi. Discovered in 2008, this species doesn’t reside in any specific area but is most commonly found in the calcareous alga.
- Hippocampus Satomiae. This species was also discovered in 2008 and is the most active of the different species. They live under coral overhangs and vary in color. They have orange markings all over their body.
- Hippocampus Waleananus. Discovered in 2009, this species lives only in Sulawesi (the Tomini Gulf, to be specific) and Indonesia. They blend in with the soft corals that they reside in.
- Hippocampus Colemani. There is not much known about this species, but they live in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Taiwan.
- Hippocampus Japapigu. Very recently discovered in 2018, this species resides in Japan, in algal turfs. They can be brown, pink, white, or beige.
As you can see, each species adapts to its environment very quickly and efficiently. It doesn’t matter if it’s coral or sand, a seahorse has the ability to adapt to every environment in order to protect itself.
Seahorses do not have the gift of speed or agility (they are in fact very, very slow swimmers), but their camouflaging capabilities make up for this.
The Tail of the Tape
The seahorse armor is actually only located in the tail, which makes its tail all the more fascinating. What’s more, a seahorse’s main predators tend to crush their victims, so it’s a perfect defense!
The tail consists of 36 segments, each consisting of corner plates that decrease in size as they get further down the tail.
These plates are all connected to the vertebrae by layers of connective tissue. All of this gives the joints around 6 degrees of freedom.
This armor aims to protect the spinal cord, which is vital for any animal to stay alive.
When it is threatened, a seahorse will also curl up, tucking its head close to its body. It will also use the tail to grip onto a surface or ‘anchor’ to try and evade being killed.
It has long been questioned why seahorses have ‘square’ tails, but it has now been discovered that they need this shape to give the strength needed for gripping.
So the tail is a perfect defense mechanism for a seahorse and offers a great array of tools for when they find themselves in a bad situation.
Seahorses are small but mighty. Now that you know how seahorses protect themselves I hope that you find their survival skills as fascinating as I do. As you have read there are many species of seahorses that are still being discovered. And one thing is for sure this small but mighty creature of the sea continues to amaze us with its beauty and the way it protects itself.