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Where the learning never ends ...

Hold Your Seahorses!

by Sean McCollum

One glance at a sea horse and you know why it got the name. (Their genus name, Hippocampus, is Greek for “bent horse.”) But sea horses—for all the resemblance to their four-legged, grass-grazing, land-loving namesakes—are fishes. And amazing fishes at that! They are captains of camouflage with armored bodies and talented tails. Their wacky adaptations make them wonders of the sea.

Where Sea Horses Roam
Like land horses, sea horses like grass. But they prefer to hide in it rather than nibble on it. Most species of sea horse haunt seagrass beds as well as coral reefs along warmer coastlines. There, they hang out and hang on by wrapping their prehensile tails around seaweed or some other support. Then underwater currents deliver their food—tiny sea animals and plants called plankton.

Masters of Disguise
Spotting a sea horse in its natural habitat is a tricky treat for SCUBA divers. These fish are masters of disguise. They can change colors to camouflage themselves, and feature bumps called tubercles (say: TOO-bur-kullz) that also help them blend in. They have to be good at hide-and-seek since they’re lousy at run-away. They lack tail and large anal fins that most fish use for power and speed. They maneuver with just dorsal fins and a pair of pectoral fins that look like ears on the sides of their horsy heads.

Look Ma, No Scales!
Sea horses might not be fast, but they are plenty tough. Instead of fishy scales, bony plates protect their bodies. This makes them less than tender snacks for most predators. Sea horses also lack teeth. Instead, they use their tubular snouts like straws to suck in plankton whole. Sea horses are ambush hunters, aided by eyes that can move independently of each other. They calmly lie in wait until a morsel floats by—and flick! Then a very simple digestive system—sea horses don't have stomachs—turns food into energy.

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