It was Father’s Day this past weekend, so now’s the perfect time to honor one of the ocean’s most adoring fathers: the seahorse. We may like to think that we live in a progressive society where men are able to take care of their kids as stay-at-home dads, but seahorses perfected that art long ago. We’ll get more involved in the seahorse parenting roles in a bit, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are so many other interesting features of the seahorse that are relevant for saltwater aquarium hobbyists.
Seahorses range in size from about .6 to 14 inches. I do mean that height-wise, not length-wise. Seahorses are one of the few creatures in the ocean that swim upright. This makes them terrible swimmers, and as a matter of fact the dwarf seahorse holds the record as the world’s slowest moving fish with a top speed of 5 mph. So, obviously their ability to travel isn’t why they’re named after horses. They get that from their equine-shaped face.
Seahorses have a unique bony appearance because of the way their body is built. A thin layer of skin covers a set of scaly plates over their bodies, which makes it look like they’re made out of rock or tree bark. Seahorses tend to rely on camouflage to stay alive, so they do not have bright or noticeable coloration. Expect lots of browns, yellows, reds, and sandy whites.
Male seahorses wear the dress in their relationships, so to speak. Female seahorses deposit their eggs (typically thousands of them) into a pouch on the male’s belly. He then fertilizes the eggs and carries them around until they’re ready to hatch. Curiously enough, the male seahorse supplies a chemical to his babies that human women also supply in their breast milk. When the time is right, the male gives birth with the same muscle contractions that most females typically have to endure. Most dads just get their hand squeezed by their agonized wife, but these stand-up guys go through every excrutiating moment so that their partners don’t have to. It may seem odd that the males would carry the young, but this beneficial arrangement helps the mommy seahorses conserve resources.
Bow chica wow wow!
Caring for your Seahorse
Seahorses aren’t the most aggressive creatures in the ocean. They tend to be shy and prefer to hide rather than fight for their territory. Pair seahorses with placid, non-aggressive fish in order to create a happy ecosystem. You’ll need to have a fairly tall tank (close to two feet) if you want to see the seahorse courtship ritual. The elaborate dance between a male and female requires that they drift upwards in a lazy spiral. It’s like watching a wedding dance in the middle of a coral reef.
Be sure to provide some hiding spots for your seahorses. You’ll need to give them plants or coral that they can hold onto with their tails. That way, they can just pretend like they’re part of the scenery and avoid all of those big, scary fish.
Seahorses feed on tiny crustaceans, though shrimp are among their favorites. Seahorses have an quirky feeding ritual that’s pretty similar to how cats hunt. You ever watch a cat sit motionless for two minutes, occasionally flicking its tail as it gets ready to pounce? It’s the same tactic here. Seahorses like to observe their food for several minutes before they finally decide to strike. When they do, they move with sudden agility to catch their prey unawares.