lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

F is for Fish (Seahorses!)

Seahorses are unusual fish – they breathe through gills and have a swim bladder, but they have no scales, instead a bony exoskeleton. They also have a neck and long, flexible, prehensile tail – things that other fish don’t have! This photo taken by Prilfish on Flikr is how most people picture seahorses:

Seahorse by Prilfish

However, seahorses’ bony exoskeletons are held together by fleshy connections, and these can grow into amazing forms to camouflage them – here is a photo by Steve Childs on Flikr, showing a pygmy seahorse camouflaged to fit in with its environment:

seahorse, Steve Childs

Not only can they camouflage themselves in this way, they can also change colour at will, so that wherever they swim they can remain as inconspicuous as possible.

This has to be their best defence from predators – because their swimming style is rather awkward, and they can only reach speeds of 0.01 mph. Mind you – they are rather a bony mouthful, without much flesh, so tend to be eaten by accident rather than design.

Their mating dance is rather glorious and sensual – full of pirouettes and caresses, while they flicker colours and twine tails. The female and male’s territory overlaps and they perform small ritual dances every day for each other.

However reports that the males are monogamous have recently been disputed.

The most amazing thing about seahorses is that they are the only (known) creature on earth where the male gestates and gives birth to the young.

During their courtship, the female deposits her eggs inside a flap on the stomach of the male. He spreads the eggs across the surface of this interior, where he fertilises them, and as they grow they take hold, form placentas, and reach maturity.

Then the male’s stomach contracts in childbirth and expels the babies into the water, where they drift and eat plankton.

Here is another incredible seahorse, a photo taken by Ed Bierman on Flikr, – one that has grown fleshy protuberances like seaweed:

Leafy seahorse, Ed Bierman

I adore seahorses. I lived by the sea when I was young, and now I look back in horror on the fact that I was given a small, dried seahorse. They used to be in big baskets at the seaside, next to baskets of shells, and the buckets and spades for tourists.

Seahorses are still caught today in some places – they and other marine creatures are laid out in the hot sun to die in agony for people to buy and marvel at their tiny, exquisite forms.

Seahorses are becoming rarer everywhere, and it is possible to help them by making sure shrimp that you buy has been sourced carefully, so as not to damage either the seahorses or their marine habitat.

I have a seahorse poem:

.

Spiny Seahorse

.

Oh, sinuous sea horse

of snaggle-tooth spines,

arching your back

as your spiral tail twines,

shifting your colours,

fins whirring away

in the rising and falling

of your slow ballet,

gently caressing

as your partner passes,

the animate soul

of the waving sea grasses.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee.

If you have time, here is a short video of the pygmy seahorses in the second picture on this blog, and how scientists found out whether they could change their colour if put on another colour sea coral:

Photos © Prilfish, Steve Childs, Ed Bierman.

Information from OneKind.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

31 Comments

  1. great post – I do think its an inglorious way to go being eaten by accident:( super pictures they have always fascinated me – but have never thought of them as fish before – not sure what I thought they were apart from sea horses! hope you are enjoying the challenge.

    lola must be a godsend for you – my sister has a guide dog and the bond is amazing:)

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    • Thank you. She is the most wonderful dog, alberta!

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  2. Somehow, I either forgot or never learned seahorses could change color.

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  3. Beautiful post! I didn’t know most of this about seahorses – they look as if they should be mythical, like unicorns, somehow.

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    • They do – there is a post about the creature that sparked the unicorn myth somewhere on my blog… last year’s A-Z I think!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We’re returning the A-Z Challenge visit, nice to meet you! Seahorses are such amazing creatures… I’ve seen them in a few aquariums now and could watch them for hours.

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    • Hello pawesome, they are wonderfully relaxing to watch, aren’t they – I love the slowness of their swim compared to the frantic frilling of the fins! (another poem there, may add it!)

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  5. Enjoyed your post, Liz, and the video was eye-opening. I am glad the seahorses survived being plucked from their ocean home.

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    • Yes, that’s the trouble with science and all these facts – mostly everything has been found out by some sort of interference in the life-cycle of the creatures involved. A new species is confirmed by killing a specimen and comparing its bones and other features to other similar species.

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  6. Alex Johnson

    Dear Liz

    Thank you for this. I adore seahorses too!

    Best

    Alex

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  7. Seahorses are amazing creatures! I am happy that your post has helped me learn new things about them.
    In Germany when kids take swimming lessons the first level, is called “Seepferdchen”, meaning little seahorse, they receive a badge to sew onto their bathing suite with a seahorse on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, that is so sweet! I’d love one of those… but I don’t live in Germany, am way too old, and can already swim. Everything is against me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know what happened to my badge. I never wanted it to be sown onto my swimsuit as I knew that I would grow out of it quickly.

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      • Hey! I was the same – I have all my swimming badges… er… somewhere!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. oh they’re so cute. I want one!

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  9. I haven’t thought of seahorses for a long time, and I think I’ve never known much about them. Thank you for your post!

    (I also had a seahorse swimming badge and I was very proud of it. I made my Mom buy two, because I had two swimsuits. Yes, I was a spoilt child.)

    A to Z challenge. http://www.whenthecatisaway.com Participant number 1390.

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    • Lol! Well, two seahorses must always be better than one!

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  10. I enjoyed this as I too love seahorses! I knew some but not all of the information you shared and had no idea the male carries the babies. 🙂 I never had a dried seahorse but thought that the ones for sale were ones found that had died naturally and ended up deposited on the beaches. How stupid of me not to realize that the plentiful supply of seahorses for sale would come from human greed.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love seahorses! I forgot how well they camouflage. Love your poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I always loved seahorses and thought they were so dainty and beautiful. I never liked to see them out of their element as it made me sad as a child. Love that they change colour and get bumps to mirror the coral

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Birgit. They can disguise themselves in all sorts of ways. They are incredible.

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  13. Very graceful little creatures. The only thing I can think of are the vintage seahorse toys (made out of polymer) we had as kids and put in water and watched them grow. I thought they were alive. I’ve never seen a real seahorse except for in pictures or videos. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello crackerberries! (Love the name.) I’ve never heard of those toys! Maybe they didn’t make it over the Atlantic…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I saw my first seahorses in person while SCUBA diving in Cuba this past summer. It was a dream come true. They are so difficult to find and spot that you really have to have an experienced dive master who knows where to look!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are rather small! So easily damaged, as well, and their habitat is also at risk.

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  15. What a fun post and theme! I love watching the seahorses at the zoo. I’m your newest follower!

    Shelly from A to Z Blogging at http://www.nebraskafamilytimes.blogspot.com and http://www.achristianmomsguide.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Shelly, thank you! I saw seahorses at Vancouver aquarium when we were in Canada. Fabulous. Haven’t seen any over here yet.

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  16. Beautiful poem, Liz. And isn’t their camouflage amazing!

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    • Thank you, Celia, it is extraordinary. But can’t help feeling the seaweed ones are giving more to eat!

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