The Secret Lives of Seahorses
We've got more than 15 species of seahorses and their kin—one of the nation's largest collections of these charismatic animals. Meander through four multimedia galleries and discover how these shy and secretive animals grow up, attract mates and give birth—this is the only family in the animal kingdom in which the males get pregnant!
Leafy sea dragon
There are only two species of sea dragons in the world. These rare and beautiful members of the seahorse family are found in the waters of southern and western Australia. The leafy sea dragons' green and yellow leaflike fins provide perfect camouflage amid the seaweeds and sea grasses where they live. Like the seahorse, the male sea dragon carries the eggs (but on a "brood patch" located on the tail instead of in a stomach pouch). "Leafies" can grow up to 13 inches long.
Weedy sea dragon
Weedy sea dragons resemble their leafy sea dragon cousins and share the same habitat, but have smaller and fewer leaflike appendages and can get slightly larger. They also tend to be darker, with shimmering reddish yellow and purple tones. "Weedies" feed on mysid shrimp and other small crustaceans, as do "leafies." Both types of sea dragons are threatened by habitat destruction, and potentially by people buying them for their home aquariums. Weedies can grow up to 18 inches long.
Measuring up to a foot tall, Pacific seahorses are among the giants of the seahorse world. The Pacific seahorse is the only seahorse species found along the California coast, ranging from San Diego Bay to Peru, and is usually found in shallow beds of soft corals and gorgonians. This nocturnal species comes in a variety of colors, including gray, brown, red and yellow, which often match its surroundings. The Pacific seahorse is listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
When it comes to a male potbelly's pouch, size matters. Bigger is better for attracting females, so courting males pump their pouches full of water. One of the larger seahorse species, "potbellies" are found in the waters of New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania in sea grass beds and rocky reefs, or attached to jetties and man-made objects along the coast. They come in mottled colors ranging from white to deep browns or yellows and olive greens. Adults grow to about 14 inches long.
Pipefish resemble skinny seahorses, stretched out straight. The dragon pipefish's tail is more flexible than those of most pipefish species, allowing it to anchor itself to coral and other structures, especially when feeding. The dragon pipefish lives in the Indo-Pacific, from East Africa and north to Japan. It lives mainly in tropical reefs in shallow, protected areas of rubble and sand, but can be found in deeper waters. Adults grow to eight inches long.
The Secret Lives of Seahorses Cool Facts
- Seahorses, sea dragons, pipehorses and pipefishes come in many shapes and sizes, but beneath the surface they're all fish, with fused jaws and bony plates in place of the scales normally associated with fish.
- Perhaps what most distinguishes seahorses from the rest of the animal kingdom is their unique life history—the males become pregnant and give birth. Seahorse fathers shelter their young in protective pouches, while sea dragon and pipefish fathers carry their young on spongy patches on the undersides of their tails.
- No one knows how many seahorses actually exist. That's because identifying seahorses is difficult. The smallest known species, discovered in 2008, is the half-inch-long Satomi's pygmy seahorse; the largest species is the potbelly seahorse, which grows to about 14 inches long.
What can you do to help seahorses?
- Each year, millions of seahorses, corals and other marine animals
are collected alive and dried as souvenirs. These products spell serious trouble for declining seahorse populations. Pledge to avoid these sea life souvenirs—and spread the word to friends and family.
- Shrimp fisheries pose a major threat to seahorses worldwide because they can mistakenly catch seahorses. The good news is that the type of shrimp you buy can make a difference. Support shrimp fisheries and farms that are safe for seahorses and other ocean wildlife.
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