Which Ocean-dwelling Male Fish Actually Gives Birth?

July 25, 1997

seahorses 100 res001 crpdThe traditional male/female roles of birthing and parenting are reversed in the world of the seahorse. No male animal on earth is known to be more adapted for paternal care than this unusual sea creature. The male actually carries the eggs, nurtures the embryos and gives birth to the baby seahorses.

When mating, the female deposits some 200+ eggs in the male’s special brood pouch (marsupium) just above the pelvic area. The eggs are fertilized as they are passed from the female to the male, thus completing the female’s role in the reproductive process. Inside the male’s pouch, the eggs attach themselves to placenta-like tissue and begin to develop. The male provides the embryos with oxygen, transfers nutrients and regulates the conditions within the pouch.

After an incubation period of approximately three weeks, the male releases the tiny seahorses by using his tail to push his pouch from underneath, or by rubbing his pouch against a shell or hard surface. The birthing process may take several days to complete.

After emerging from their father’s pouch, the baby seahorses (about the size of a grain of rice) are completely independent. The father, now free of his parental responsibilities, is ready to mate again. Since seahorses are usually monogamous creatures, the male will seek out the same partner and begin the reproductive cycle once again.