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What Is a Seahorse?
Seahorses compose the fish genus Hippocampus within the family Syngnathidae, in order Syngnathiformes. Syngnathidae also includes the pipefishes. “Hippocampus” comes from the Ancient Greek hippos meaning “horse” and kampos meaning “sea monster”.
There are about 40 species of seahorse. They are mainly found in shallow tropical and temperate waters throughout the world. They prefer to live in sheltered areas such as seagrass beds, coral reefs, or mangroves. Colonies have been found in European waters such as the Thames Estuary. From North America down to South America there are approximately four species, ranging from the very small (dwarf seahorses are only about 2.5 centimeters (1 in) to much larger specimens off the Pacific Coast of Central America (the foot-long H. ingens). H. erectus are larger seahorses that range from Nova Scotia to around Uruguay. Three species live in the Mediterranean Sea: H. hippocampus (long snout), H. brevirostris (short snout) and H. fuscus (immigrated from the Red Sea).
These fish form territories, with males staying in about 1 square meter (11 sq ft) of their habitat while females range about one hundred times that area. They bob around in sea grass meadows, mangrove stands, and coral reefs where they adopt murky brown and gray patterns to camouflage themselves among the sea grass. During social moments or in unusual surroundings, seahorses turn bright colors.
Seahorses are named for their equine profile. Although they are bony fish, they do not have scales, but rather a thin skin stretched over a series of bony plates arranged in rings throughout their body. Each species has a distinct number of rings. Seahorses swim upright, another characteristic that is not shared by their close pipefish relatives, which swim horizontally. Seahorses have a coronet on their head, which is distinct to each individual, much like a human fingerprint. They swim very poorly by using a dorsal fin, which they rapidly flutter and pectoral fins, located behind their eyes, which they use to steer. Seahorses have no caudal fin. Since they are poor swimmers, they are most likely to be found resting, with their prehensile tails wound around a stationary object. They have long snouts, which they use to suck up food, and eyes that can move independently of each other, much like a chameleon. Seahorses eat small shrimp, tiny fish and plankton.
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