Watery horseplay

In the wild, the biggest threat to seahorses is traditional Chinese medicine, which uses the creatures as a remedy for many ailments.

seahorse 520 (photo credit: Adi Philipsborn)
seahorse 520
(photo credit: Adi Philipsborn)
Seahorses are famous for their equine appearance, but they certainly don’t live up to their name when it comes to moving.
These elegant fish move slowly through the water propelled by the frantic flapping of their dorsal fins at more than 30 times a second. In fact, they are so slow that they prefer to remain in one place, holding onto any available aquatic growth with their tails as they feed on shrimps and plankton that they suck up through their long snouts.
Despite their unusual shape they are true fish, even though they have no scales but a thin skin stretched over the bony rings that make up their shape. The number of rings a seahorse has is one of the ways of identifying each of the nearly 50 species of seahorse that float through the shallow coastal waters in temperate climates around the world. Although most seahorses live in warmer climates, there are some that survive in colder waters, and there are even seahorses living in the Thames estuary in England.
The fish are also unique due to their gender role reversal that sees the male of the species carrying the young. There is a popular misconception that it is the male who becomes pregnant.
However, the fact is that the female deposits her eggs into a pouch on the male’s stomach, and he then carries the eggs for the entire gestation period of two to four weeks.
The eggs cause the male seahorse’s stomach to swell up, probably fueling the myth that the male becomes pregnant.
Before mating, seahorses go through a period of courting in which the prospective couple swim through the rushes with their tails entwined or hang out together by gripping onto the same plant stalk. After the male has accepted some eggs, the female will visit him every morning, perhaps to check that he is doing a good job. After the incubation period, the male releases the young by squirting them out from his pouch in a cloud of tiny, perfectly formed seahorses.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo’s seahorse exhibit contains short-snouted seahorses, which are found locally in the Mediterranean Sea. The collection’s largest male seahorse arrived carrying eggs, and the zoo now has two young seahorses that it is trying to raise until they are large enough to join the older fish. In the meantime, the two newcomers have not waited for anyone, and the male is now carrying the eggs of the female, which are expected to hatch in about two weeks. If all goes well, the zoo’s collection of seahorses may increase severalfold.
In the wild, the biggest threat to seahorses is traditional Chinese medicine. Practitioners of this form of medicine use seahorses as a remedy for a variety of ailments and, as a result, the fish are in great demand. Every year the industry pulls up to 20 million seahorses from the oceans to be dried and ground up for Chinese medicines. Although there are international agreements banning seahorse trade, some key countries have not joined and the problem is getting worse.
For the time being, visitors to the zoo can enjoy the sedate activities of the seahorses as they gracefully glide around their tank. There are almost no other fish in the display with the seahorses. This is because with their slow pace, the seahorses would be last to the table at feeding time and miss out on the meal.