Seahorses are amazing marine creatures native to saltwater environments from the tropics to temperate zones. They are called “seahorses” because of their horse-like heads –even their scientific name is based on the Greek word for horse (Hippocampus).
Believe it or not the fins on the sides of their heads can beat up to 50 times a second, and their tails are prehensile (they can be used to hold onto or grasp objects) like a monkey’s. From a scientific perspective, seahorses are classified as fish. Of the 50 species of seahorses known to science, at least six are native to the United States and Outlying Territories (American Samoa; Baker, Howland and Jarvis Islands; Guam; Johnston Atoll; Kingman Reef; Midway Islands; Navassa Island; Northern Mariana Islands; Palmyra Atoll; Puerto Rico; U.S. Virgin Islands; Wake Islands).
Seahorses are relatively locatation specific and they live in habitats such as mangrove forests and sea grass beds that provide food (usually brine shrimp) and shelter (including camouflage against predators). They spend a lot of time in one area by wrapping their tails around underwater plants or coral. In some species, male and female seahorses form breeding pairs – they mate for life.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating facts about seahorses is that males give birth to the young! After the female deposits her eggs in the male’s brood pouch, he fertilizes the eggs and anchors himself to a solid surface to await the birth – sometimes for up to several weeks. The size of the wild population is unknown.
Some characteristics make seahorses naturally vulnerable to extinction. Although they are native to the waters off more than 130 countries, seahorses are spotty in distribution. Seahorses tend to have low birth rates, with lengthy parental care. In addition, the waters they live in are often exploited by people for fishing or urban development – which can degrade and destroy their habitat. Unfortunately, seahorses themselves are intentionally harvested by people for the curio and aquarium trade and for traditional medicines, both domestically and internationally. There is some international trade in U.S.-native seahorses, but most trade (worldwide and entering the United States) comes from Asia.
One of my favorite Photographic subjects - I'll head to Roatan to find my favorite sea creatures!