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Island Nature: the Irresistible Seahorse

Is there any fish on the reef as mysterious and charming as the seahorse? It’s hard to think of any other creature as irresistible as this creature with its horse-like snout and curling tail.

Island Runaways

(A seahorse in the Red Sea. Photo by Prilfish, Flickr)

I’m not sure why I love looking at them so much. But I do know that I’m not alone: seahorses seem to inspire awe and fascination among both children and adults. For this latest post in our tropical reef series, we don’t need to worry about learning to recognize a seahorse during a snorkel or scuba dive, because most are instantly recognizable (although there are some that do resemble seaweed or algae).

island travel blog

(A Leafy Sea Dragon seahorse, which looks like seaweed. Photo by Steve Corey, Flickr)

Even if we all basically know what a seahorse is, and what one looks like, I thought I'd do a bit of research into these unusual creatures so we can all increase our “seahorse expertise” for that Caribbean getaway or tropical island. So, here goes!

Their name: Seahorses belong to the scientific genus Hippocampus. The word doesn’t have anything to do with a hippopotamus(!), but comes from the ancient Greek hippos (or horse) and kampos (sea monster).

Where seahorses are found: around the world, from the warm ocean off the Bahamas to the Thames Estuary in the U.K. They inhabit tropical and temperate waters, and make their home generally in protected areas such as corals, sea grasses, and mangroves, where the seahorse can anchor itself to a spot by holding on with its tail.

Caribbean travel blog

(A seahorse in seagrass. Photo by Malcolm Browne, Flickr)

How seahorses are different from other fish: They have necks, in fact flexible necks. They’re also one of the few types of fish to swim upright or vertically. Unfortunately, the poor seahorse is not an especially effective swimmer. That’s one reason they like to hold onto a stalk of seagrass or a branch of coral and chill out. Their horsey snouts also set them apart from their other oceanic compadres. Another thing I just learned? The movement of their eyes isn’t synched. Each eye can move autonomously. (I’d never noticed that!)

The special role that seahorse Dads play: This is one of my favorite aspects of seahorses: A female places her eggs into the male’s pouch, and he proceeds to incubate the eggs anywhere from 9 to 45 days, until the babies are born. Can you imagine if human beings had this capacity? “Here, honey, you can carry the fetus for a few months!”

A final few curious things about seahorses:

They can be as tiny as half an inch, or a large as 14 inches.

Seahorses don’t have scales, but skin.

Seahorses camouflage themselves (in grasses or corals) and wait patiently for their prey.

They suck in their food, usually little crustaceans, such as mysid shrimp.

tropical island escape

(Close up of a seahorse. Photo by Matthew Sullivan, Flickr)

Not only did I enjoy researching the seahorse for you and our fellow Island Runaways, I also came across a video of filmed in the sea off Indonesia that was simply mesmerizing. Here’s the link, if you’re curious. Now that I know a bit more about these miraculous creatures, I can’t wait for a chance to put on a snorkel and mask and look for one coyly hiding among the corals.

Have you ever spotted a seahorse while you were swimming? If so, hope you'll tell us about it!

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