Which Ocean-dwelling Male Fish Actually Gives
25 July 1997
The 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
the seahorse. 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 a special
brood pouch (marsupium) just above the male's 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 a 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.