Till today, marine life has outmatched human assumptions in several ways. The diversity of creatures in terms of sizes, colors, behavior, feeding habit and symbiotic relationship is indeed very fascinating. Talking about seahorses (Hippocampus sp.), the name itself reveals what this marine mammal looks like. With a long and pointed snout, its facial structure resembles that of a horse. There is more to learn about the reproduction process of seahorses which is unique and one of a kind.
Interesting Facts about Seahorse Reproduction
Both the male and female seahorses change their partners very rarely. According to studies, it is found that they are monogamous for at least one mating season. It is another rare attribute seen in marine mammals. While studying the breeding methods of seahorses, much importance is given to the distended male brooding pouch, where the eggs and developing hatchlings are stored until birth. For your understanding about reproduction in seahorses, refer to the following information.
Competition for Female
When the mating season arrives, the male seahorses are often found competing amongst themselves for the female. They fight, slap to one another with their snout and many times, wrestle with their tails to win the female attention. At other times, seahorses tend to remain entangled in the nearby vegetation with its tail curled. Owing to their upright posture, it is understandable that they are not very good in swimming. In fact, many of them die due to exertion after swimming for longer hours.
At the time of courtship, they change their color, move sideways and perform the pre-dawn dance. The female then inserts oviduct to the male's brooding pouch repeatedly for depositing eggs (more than 1,000 eggs). In between the process, the female tries to relax for a short time, while the male wrings in an attempt to adjust eggs properly. After eggs are impregnated, the female seahorse gets separated from the male, and the protruded oviduct is receded within a few hours. The male seahorse attaches itself to a nearby plant by its tail.
The Pregnant Male
An astonishing fact about seahorses is that the male partner is the one that gets pregnant, and not the female counterpart. Like other organisms, the male produces sperms and the female produces eggs. However, egg fertilization, nurturing of embryo and hatching occur inside the male's pouch. Also, it is the male that provides parental care. The gestation period of seahorse lasts for about 21 days, and during this period, the male and the female seahorses greet each other in the morning.
Releasing the Babies
After the successful completion of gestation period, the male bends forward and backward several times (muscular contraction) to expel the brood. Then a group of fry (collectively called a brood) come out of the nearly spherical shaped pouch. Based on the species, a brood of seahorse comprises about 8 babies, or as large as 200 or more young ones. After some days of birthing babies, the male seahorse becomes ready to mate with the female and get impregnated. This way, the seahorse reproduction cycle continues.
Once the brood is released, the male seahorse takes no part in caring the babies. Instead, the young ones get hold of the nearby vegetation on their own. They resemble the adults in all aspects, except for the size. In short, the baby seahorse has all the attributes similar to that of an adult. Just within two weeks of birth, the young seahorses begin feeding like an adult. They tend to feed on small shrimp, several hundreds of planktons and other small marine organisms.
It is very hard to believe that the male seahorse remains pregnant for most part of its life. Despite short gestation period and production of offspring in large numbers, the population of seahorse is decreasing. This is mainly because of the present threats to their habitat, natural predators, low survival rate of fry and heavy hunting for use in therapeutic intervention. Also, this marine mammal has a high mortality percentage, when kept in captivity.