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Fish #109 Short-snouted Seahorse Hippocampus hippocampus ~ Janet Bennetts
Watercolour 42 x 30 cm
I am a little seahorse
With a short snout
I drift amongst the weeds
In and out
Carried by the tide
I change my colour
So I can easily hide
And hang on by my tail
In the event of a gale
I'm the oddest creature you could wish
I'm not a horse of course but a fish!
by Janet Bennetts
"Hippocampus" comes from the Ancient Greek word 'hippos' meaning 'horse' and 'kampos' which means 'sea monster'. The Short-snouted Seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus, is a species of seahorse in the family Syngnathidae.
Surprising facts: It is actually a fish, related to pipefishes, although instead of having scales like most fish, it has a bone structure that is made up of little plates covered with a thin layer of skin. The seahorse is the only fish with a neck and the only species on Earth in which the male gives birth. They are able to change colour like chameleons.
Location: I was surprised to find out that seahorses could be found in the North Sea but apparently they do sometimes venture into the southern North Sea - more frequently as temperatures rise. More usually they are found in the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the North Atlantic, particularly around Italy and the Canary Islands. In 2007, colonies of the species were discovered in the River Thames around London and Southend-on-Sea.
Size and Lifespan: Adults can grow up to 15cm. They are thought to live for 3-5 years
Habitat: They are usually found in seaweed and seagrass beds in shallower waters. The seahorse mimics the green or yellow coloration of plants allowing it to hide among the vegetation. This ability likely plays a role in seahorse feeding strategy and in predator avoidance. It makes limited daily movements within very restricted home ranges. It may over-winter in deeper water. Adult dispersal over large distances is probably caused by strong wave action during storms or when it anchors itself to floating debris.
Feeding: They blend invisibly into the background and, using their short snouts, they suck up plankton such as copepods and other small crustaceans like a vacuum cleaner. They are incredibly stealthy and their chameleon-like eyes can move independently of one another, allowing them excellent vision. They use their prehensile tails to anchor themselves to plants.
Mating: They are ovoviviparous, which means that the male carries the eggs and gives birth after the female deposits eggs into the male brood pouch. Newly hatched young are thought to have a planktonic stage that lasts at least eight weeks. During the mating season, mature males and females have been observed to change hue, i.e., become brighter, when greeting, courting, or mating. They are faithful to their partners - although not necessarily for life.
Protected and endangered status: In the United Kingdom they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. In 2010, the London Zoo, which operates a Short-snouted Seahorse breeding programme, saw the birth of 918 baby seahorses. Due to the small size and vulnerability of the seahorse, it has numerous predators within its natural environment. Crustaceans such as crabs, fish and rays are all common predators of the seahorse along with humans who harvest the seahorse for use in traditional medicine. The seahorse is also vulnerable to bad weather as in storms seahorses are often thrown from the place that they were clinging to and onto the shore.
Seahorses in mythology: HIPPOKAMPOI (Hippocamps) were the fish-tailed horses of the sea. They were depicted as creatures with the head and fore-parts of a horse and the serpentine-tail of a fish. Hippokampoi were the mounts of Nereid nymphs and sea-gods, and Poseidon drove a chariot drawn by two or four of the creatures. The Ancient Greeks and Romans believed the seahorse was an attribute of the sea god Neptune/Poseidon and as such, the seahorse was considered a symbol of strength and power. Chinese cultures believed that the seahorse was a type of sea dragon; they were revered for their power and thought to be symbols of good luck. Unfortunately this has led to seahorses being used in traditional medicine
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