The Seahorse, the Ocean’s Deadliest Predator

(Last Updated On: December 5, 2013)

Seahorse 411px-Hippocampus 200pxScience Fact:  The seahorse is a popular favorite among snorkelers, scuba divers and aquarium-goers. It is beautiful and graceful as it undulates in the currents, and looks not only familiar, but weirdly out of place among all the fish.

Although some species can grow over a foot in size, the seahorse you see is typically only an inch or two long. You have to be pretty patient to find one. They live in shallow warm seawater in all parts of the world. They hang out in coral (both soft and hard), sea grass and mangroves, where they blend right into the surroundings.

The seahorse seems to move very slowly, even awkwardly, for a denizen of the deep. Unfortunately, they are popular in Chinese medicine, so as a result many species are believed to be threatened with extinction. Thus they are prey not only for photographers but also for commercial catching.

But a recent article now tells the truth: the seahorse is not at the bottom of the food chain, simply prey for every passing sea creature or human. In fact, it is a feared and skillful predator. The seahorse loves to feed on tiny crustaceans called copepods, and catches 90% of the prey that he stalks. The seahorse sneaks up on his intended meal, then unleashes a spring mechanism built into his neck while simultaneously sucking in water. The copepod, who is one of the fastest swimmers in the ocean, doesn’t have a chance. A fascinating 16-second video captures the action.

Science Speculation:  The research results are fascinating enough, because they give us previously unknown information about this popular little animal. But the original study also reveals the amazing power of collaboration across different scientific fields.

Three researchers in Texas and Minnesota teamed up, bridging three fields: marine biology; holographic video imaging; and fluid dynamics. Holographic interferometry uses optical interference patterns to visualize the flow patterns in the transparent water. And fluid dynamics permits analysis of just how the seahorse performs his amazing feat.

It turns out that the odd-looking snout on the seahorse, which seems so different from most sea creatures, is shaped so as to make a minimum disturbance in the water. Thus the copepod, which is hypersensitive to motion in the water, doesn’t sense the presence of the seahorse until it is just too late for him to get away.

The seahorse has revealed one of his secrets to a study spanning several fields of science. How has collaboration with people of different backgrounds benefitted you?

Photo Credit: Mr. Mohammed Al Momany, Aqaba, Jordan on Wikipedia


The Seahorse, the Ocean’s Deadliest Predator — 4 Comments

  1. “collaboration with people of different backgrounds” has benefitted me A LOT! One of my scientifically most productive time was when as a postdoc I was working with chemists, bringing my physics and math background with their chemistry knowledge. When I talk to young scientist I always urge them to work in interdiciplinary areas with people of different backgrounds. HRL was a good place like that too. I understand that Ted Maiman was able to build the first laser because he learned from a photographer about PULSED flashlamps, and then used it to pump the ruby which required very intense pumping, not possible with CW lamps.

    • Thanks, Metin. The early days of lasers were very interdisciplinary, but I had not previously heard the Maiman story about a photographer being in the mix!

  2. A fascinating video and an excellent example of the virtues (and necessity) of collaborative research. This is something I have recently started to promote in my field.

  3. Art,
    I got on your distribution list and am enjoying the interesting articles you are writing. I particularly liked the Seahorse story and learned several interesting facts about seahorses from it.
    Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.