Whilst I’m blogged about sea creatures before, marvelling at the mammoth blue whales and fantastical Narwhals, I have to admit–there are lots of things that live in the sea gross me out. (It’s one of the main reasons that I shy away from seafood…well, that and the disgusting taste…). For instance, look at this monkfish:
Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Come on! I don’t care how much that fish would fetch you at market. It’s not worth it. Throw it back!!! Before it throws YOU back. That’s just one example of finned fugliness. Check out the blobfish.
It looks like Ziggy! Even seaweed can look pretty skeevy in the wrong light. Mercifully, the underwater world isn’t ALL hideous beasts and unappealing foliage. There’s some cute sh!t down there too. Today’s great thing, for instance…
Awwww, seahorses. They can turn colors to match their environment you know, just like chameleons. And, like some reptiles, they can move their eyes independently of each other. Neat-o! Mostly, seahorses are found in tropical waters but there have been herds found in waters as northern as the Thames Estuary (the Queen’s private sea-stables me-thinks!)
The mating habits of seahorses really ratchets the cute factor up enormously. For the most part, seahorses are monogamous (pretty rare for a fish–which it is). When seahorses find a suitable mate, they perform an elaborate dance, circling around each other and making musical clicking noises. Interloping seahorses might try to cut in, but if the match is already made, the couple stays focussed on each other. Eventually, the female will deposit her eggs into the male’s belly pouch. If you watch this, it’s pretty cool to see one seahorse shrink whilst the other grown instantly fatter. This is the only instance in nature where the male of the species carries and gives birth to the young. So cool. Female seahorses must be pretty hot to command that kind of whipped behavior. Hats off to you, seafillies! In fact, the female totally wears the pants in this relationship. She scoots off every day– to god-knows-where…much further away from the home territory than the male ever will– for a period of time but always returns by morning to perform yet another brief dance for the pregnant dadfish. Gotta keep ‘em interested, right? Am I right?! She works hard for the money…doot doot doot doot…so hard for ya honey doot doot doot doot…she works hard for the money so you better treat her right. Weirdly, seahorses will typically mate under a full moon. They also frequently swim in couples by linking their prehensile tails together. They are die-hard romantics.
Incidentally, baby seahorses are called ‘fry’.
Though there are many different species of seahorse, most are about as big as a teacup. Primarily, they take up residence in reefs and areas where there are lots of leafy plants. They aren’t terrific swimmers so it’s a necessity for them to avoid vast spaces of purely open sea. If they get caught in a current they can die of exhaustion trying to swim back to home base. They’ll often use their tails to secure their position by anchoring themselves to plants, rocks, and other stationary objects…like little helium-filled party balloons. Though they’re not strong swimmers, they can maneuver around a bit with the flippers on their back (dorsal fins). These fins can beat nearly as fast as hummingbird wings. The pectoral ones near their eyes are utilized more for steering. But, because of their upright design and small fin size, they just don’t have those streamlined skills that you see so often in other fish like salmon and are poorly suited for swimming at any great length or distance.
As mentioned earlier, these critters, though they don’t look it, are a type of fish. More specifically, they are part of the pipefish family. Here’s a pipefish:
They are also related to the even more mythical sounding seadragons…both ‘leafy’:
…And ‘weedy’ varieties:
You’ll notice that they all have long snouts–sort of like land horses. They graze almost constantly like real horses too. They don’t have teeth, per se, or even a stomach, but they are perpetually hoovering up plankton, brine shrimp and other prey small enough to fit through their little cocktail straw faces. They eat like real fatties. Their near constant consumption of food is a solution to the whole ‘not having a stomach’ issue. Food pretty much passes straight through the seahorses which is another reason that they hover around their territories so much. They wouldn’t want to get caught in an unknown area where scavenging for eats would be difficult. This is a completely different reason to why I eat like a fatty.
A seahorses coronet is as distinctive and unique as our fingerprints. This is great news for the Fish Police (ten points if you remember that cartoon).
It’s time to admit that a previously unacknowledged part of me just wants to live under the sea with the seahorses and ride one around like Princess Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Sigh, my secret girlishness embarrasses us all.
Although reading about seahorses has totally made me want to run out, buy a tank and purchase dozens of these critters so that I can watch them hold tails, dance around, and hoover up their food with their pointy faces, I will resist. Apparently, they don’t fare particularly well in captivity and the trade of seahorses, which are also used heavily in Chinese medicines, has severely impacted their numbers in the wild. It would totally suck to watch these supercute animals die in a tank just because I had to have one.
Seahorses that are bred in captivity have better survival rates in tanks than those that aren’t…but if you’re purchasing them from a shop, there’s no way for you to tell. So for now, no seahorses for me.
Anyway, who’s got time to maintain a fish tank? I don’t even have a DOG yet. Priorities…
To close, here’s a video I found about these delightful varmints. It’s ten minutes long and it goes more into the conservation efforts than anything, but it’s got some cool footage of the mating rituals and of their crazy eyes moving independently about as well.