One of the most easily recognized sea creatures is the seahorse, or hippocampus. Everyone knows what they look like, but few know much of anything else about them. Many people, even in this day and age, still think they are mythical.
There is a mythical version- a half horse, half fish, much like an equine version of a mermaid- but that's not what this article is about. This is about real seahorses, the ones that may be in danger of disappearing.
Undoubtedly the most graceful of fish, seahorses spend most of their time in one place, using their long tails to anchor themselves to just about anything that doesn't move. They can swim when they have to, but it's very slow going. They use delicate fins on each side of their head as well as one on their back to propel themselves, usually just enough to get from one rock to another. It's certain that no seahorse would ever win the Preakness!
Seahorses belong to the same family of fishes as the pipe-fish and leafy sea-dragon. All of these fish use their long, tube-like snout to suck up their prey, such as tiny shrimp. Little is known about their behavior in the wild; but there is evidence to support that they stay with one mate for life.
One of the most surprising things about seahorses is that it is the father that gets pregnant and "gives birth". Seahorses are true fish, and like other fish lay eggs. However, in this species the male is equipped with a pouch in his abdomen into which the female deposits her eggs. They are then fertilized inside this pouch. The developing eggs are incubated inside this pouch until they hatch, and the babies are live "born". The male twists and contorts his body to expel the babies from his pouch.
Another unusual feature is that they are one of a very few species of fish with an exoskeleton. And in addition to that, they also have a spine. Their eyes move independently, which can give them a rather comical appearance if viewed head-on.
Because of their almost mystical appearance- head like a horse, armor-plated body, grasping, monkey-like tail- it is no wonder that they are often sought after as aquarium pets. However, this is not recommended as seahorses typically do very poorly in captivity. Even ones that were domestically bred have little chance of long-term survival, except with experts. First of all, they are strictly a salt-water fish, which is a challenge in itself, and they often simply don't feed in captivity. Even with an expert, they often don't survive more than a few months.
It is not known for sure, but strongly suspected, that seahorses may be endangered. No one really knows how many seahorses there still are in the wild, but they seem to be disappearing. A big part of this is due to harvesting them for the souvenir trade, but even more at fault is the wide-spread practice of dried seahorses being ground up and used in many "medicines" and potions, mostly in Asian countries where they are believed to have special powers.
If something isn't done soon to regulate their over-harvesting, the seahorse may indeed become simply a "myth".