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NATURAL HISTORY

DWARF SEAHORSE } Hippocampus zosterae
FAMILY: Syngnathidae

DESCRIPTION: Adults of this tiny seahorse species are only one inch tall and have a high, columnar coronet. They can be beige, yellow, green or nearly black, with variable mottling ranging from absent to distinct. Some individuals have white markings, while some have dark spots. Seahorses use camouflage, changing color and skin filament patterns to blend with their environments, and they may change color rapidly when interacting with one another.

HABITAT: This species lives in seagrass beds in tropical and subtropical shallow coastal areas. It is associated with mangrove ecosystems.

RANGE: The dwarf seahorse can be found in shallow coastal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, along the Atlantic Coast of Florida and in the Caribbean.

MIGRATION: Seahorses have low mobility and are site-faithful, maintaining small home ranges.

BREEDING: Dwarf seahorses form monogamous pair bonds that are reinforced each morning with daily greeting rituals. Males give live birth to three to 16 fully formed, quarter-inch-long young after a 10-day gestation period. Males carry two broods per month and the mating season runs from February to October.

LIFE CYCLE: Most dwarf seahorses live only one year.

FEEDING: Seahorses consume live mobile prey, relying on their camouflage to allow them to sit and wait to ambush creatures like fish fry, small crustaceans, amphipods and other invertebrates. Seahorses lack teeth and do not have a differentiated stomach. When prey swims close to a seahorse’s mouth, the seahorse rapidly intakes water through its snout, allowing it to consume any item small enough to fit through the snout.

THREATS: This species is threatened mainly by pollution, loss of seagrass habitat, oil spills, collection for the aquarium trade and use in curios, global climate change and ocean acidification.

POPULATION TREND: Numerous studies have shown that dwarf seahorse populations are declining in conjunction with the loss of seagrass beds they need for survival.

Dwarf seahorse photo © Jeff Jeffords, www.divegallery.com