MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: What is the social life of the seahorse like?

Date: Tue Apr 17 16:18:17 2001
Posted By: Ingrid Dodge, Grad student, Immunology
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 987536285.Zo

Dear Laua:

Thank you for the interesting question! When I was in Sara Lewis' lab as an undergraduate at Tufts University, I observed seahorse behavior. The graduate student I worked with at the time was Heather Masonjones and we relied heavily on earlier studies performed by Amanda Vincent.

Seahorses are fascinating fish which are related to pipefishes and sea dragons. They are unusual in that there is internal fertilization in the male. In other words, the males get pregnant rather than females. Seahorses monogamously pair-bond during the breeding season, meaning that one male and one female stay together throughout a whole season, unless one of the individuals is killed. In the early morning, the pair reinforce their pair bond by performing a morning greeting. The two seahorses rise up toward the surface, quivering next to each other. The male also seems to glow. This is an abbreviated version of their courtship dance, which precedes mating, where the female deposits her eggs into the male's pouch. If the pair is left alone, most of the rest of the day is spent swimming around the seagrass beds where they make their home, feeding on small crustaceans and plankton.

If many seahorses are present in one seagrass bed, they sometimes will aggressively attack each other - they can be quite territorial, especially during the breeding season. When one seahorse attacks the other, it wraps its prehensile tail around the other seahorse (head, body, tail, whatever is convenient) which the other seahorse tries to resist. The other seahorse will also usually try to retaliate by wrapping its tail around the first seahorse, or else it will swim away. I've never seen a seahorse actually injure another seahorse, but their tails have become pretty tangled.

So that's the social life of the seahorse - courting, breeding, defending territory, and an awful lot of time is spent sitting still and feeding. I hope this answers your question!

Sincerely, Ingrid Dodge Mad Scientist

Kvarnemo C. Moore GI. Jones AG. Nelson WS. Avise JC. Monogamous pair bonds and mate switching in the Western Australian seahorse Hippocampus subelongatus. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 13(6):882-888, 2000 Nov.


Vincent ACJ. Sadler LM. FAITHFUL PAIR BONDS IN WILD SEAHORSES, HIPPOCAMPUS WHITEI. Animal Behaviour. 50(Part 6):1557-1569, 1995 Dec.

Vincent ACJ. A ROLE FOR DAILY GREETINGS IN MAINTAINING SEAHORSE PAIR BONDS. Animal Behaviour. 49(1):258-260, 1995 Jan.

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