Finding a seahorse in its natural underwater habitat is a fascinating experience that could really make your scuba dive worthwhile. These delightful little marine species are a wonder to observe.
Seahorse sizes range from 1cm Pygmy seahorses up to 30cm for the Pot-Bellied species. Scientists believe that there are more than 45 species of Seahorses. Pipefish and Sea Dragons are also related to the seahorse family.
Features. Seahorses can move their eyes independently of each other so they can see forwards and backward at the same time. They have not evolved to be strong swimmers, so they have to propel themselves through the water in an upright position. They do this by fluttering their Dorsal fins.
Seahorses also have an air sac in their body which they can adjust to move up and down. Their Pectoral fins are used for steering.
They have a number of bony plated rings all the way up the length of their body. The Male is easy to identify with its distinctive brood pouch which can look like a big beer belly, particularly if he is pregnant. The female does not have a brood pouch so it’s fairly easy to identify the male from the female.
The body of the seahorse is equipped with colour changing cells which they use for camouflage. They can easily blend into their background environment to hide from any predators. As they are camouflaged they can be difficult to locate and even identify which species they are.
Habitat. As they are not strong swimmers, they probably get tired quickly and become vulnerable. Seahorses can easily cling on to a marine plant by curling their prehensile tail around it. For example, they can be found anchored to some soft coral, sponge coral, or seagrasses.
In Pattaya, Thailand they are known to live on Thorny Sea Urchins. This is one way for scuba divers to find them. The seahorse clings on to one of the spines of the urchin and leans forward so that its long snout can suck up its food. They mostly feed on brine shrimp but they have to keep eating to stay alive as they do not have a digestive system.
The seahorse seems to be using the urchin for protection from predators as it attaches itself to one of its spines. Occasionally you might see several seahorses on the same urchin or even juveniles hiding underneath them.
The Thorny Sea Urchin travels at an extremely slow pace across the ocean floor and appears to give the Seahorse a perfect retreat. As the urchin moves around in slow motion, the Seahorse gets a free ride, conserves its energy and can sit and wait for some food to appear.
Mating. Seahorses mate for life and even meet up in the early morning for a mating ritual where they swim, dance, change colour and even join tails. After the ritual, the female will deposit her eggs in the male’s brood pouch. Scientists believe that the evolutionary process of sharing the load from female to male allows more time for the female to begin the process again.
Birth. Male seahorses carry the eggs in their brood pouch. After a pregnancy period of just 2-3 weeks, the male seahorse will push out the baby seahorses called ‘Fry’ from his brood pouch. There can be as many as 2000 Fry.
The juvenile seahorse will not receive any care from its parents and will be on its own immediately from birth. The chances of surviving to adulthood are very slim. Seahorses are a short-lived species and the ones that do make it will only live for a maximum of 4 years.
Threats. From dragging fishing nets across the seabed which destroys habitats and scoops up everything else. The fishing companies are not interested in catching seahorses which are considered to be by-catch. The seahorses are eventually sold for use in Chinese medicines.
Seahorses in Pattaya. The local Seahorse Species in the Gulf of Thailand is the Hedgehog Seahorse (Hippocampus Spinosissimus) which is also known as the Queensland Seahorse. It can be found from Sri Lanka all the way across to Taiwan. The Conservation Status of the Hedgehog Seahorse is ‘Vulnerable’
Scuba Divers are curious about observing these delicate little creatures which can appear perfectly still as if they are playing dead, but, if you look closely you might see their eyes moving. Next time you are diving and you come across a thorny Sea Urchin, be sure to take a closer look. You never know what might be hiding in there.
Scuba Divers are curious about observing these delicate little creatures which can appear perfectly still like they are playing dead, but, if you look closely you might see their eyes moving. Next time you are diving and you come across a thorny Sea Urchin, be sure to take a close up look. You never know what might be hiding in there.