mysterious, secretive creatures in the ocean, the seahorse is probably
the most legendary. It looks like a creature that could only exist in
someone's imagination, and in fact there are few ocean creatures that
can claim to influence cultures as much as the seahorse in areas such as
writing, art and poetry.
Seahorses are such masters of camouflage divers rarely see them, yet they are distributed worldwide in all but the coldest seas. Their instruments of deception include several strategies. Blotchy skin patterns coupled with an ability to change color help them blend in with their surroundings. They may grow extra skin "filaments" to imitate seaweed or seagrass growths. Encrusting animals such as bryozoans, or algae may be hosted on their skin. Seahorses may have texture and colors so similar to their surroundings they are nearly invisible, and their slow, careful movements enhance their ability to remain unseen.
Seahorses are generally more diurnal than nocturnal. There are currently about 120 various scientific names in use for various seahorses, but many are synonyms. The latest review of seahorse classification has established the total number of species at thirty-two. All seahorses belong to the genus Hippocampus, which comes from the Greek words hippos meaning "horse" and campus meaning "sea monster". In Greek mythology, Hippocampus refers to a mythical creature on which sea gods rode.
Most seahorse species are under threat, primarily due to their frequent use in traditional Chinese medicine. There are efforts under way to conserve them, frequently with assistance from public aquariums. Most notable is Project Seahorse, created in 1996.
In November 2002 the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, agreed to list all seahorses on CITES Appendix II, beginning in May 2004 -- see the press release and the complete list under "Hippocampus spp."). This means they are regarded by the 160 signatory nations to be so scarce that trade must be controlled in order to ensure that their use is compatible with their survival. The next higher classification, CITES Appendix I, includes endangered species, which are effectively banned from collecting.
H. erectus* [70K]
H. subelongatus [87K]
artist's rendition of a seahorse
*more than one photo
|excellent Adobe PDF downloadable resource -- "A Guide to the Identification of Seahorses" produced jointly by Project Seahorse and TRAFFIC|
|Aquarist site promoting seahorse aquaculture: Seahorse.org|
|Coral Reef Alliance articles about seahorses|
|Nova Online "Kingdom of the Seahorse"|
Seahorses: An identification guide to the world's species and their conservation by Sara A Lourie, Amanda C. J. Vincent and Heather J. Hall [comment: excellent for scientific info]
Seahorses, Pipefishes and their relatives by Rudie H. Kuiter [comment: great photos]
*photo note: all photos are lower-resolution versions of original digital images, from various aquarium visits
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