The Sea Horse and Leaf Dragon at Ripley's Aquarium in the Smokies
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The Sea Horse and Leaf Dragon at Ripley's Aquarium in the Smokies

The Seahorse and Leaf Dragon were located in the coral reef area of Ripley's Aquarium. Their delicate and docile nature makes them one of the most fascinating species of marine live found in the reef.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has over 10,000 exotic sea creatures. There are more than 350 individual species throughout the aquarium. There are more fish in this aquarium than there are people living in the entire town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I had the pleasure of the exploring this underwater world while in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. Hard to believe a plethora of unique marine life can be found in the harshest of climates, hundreds of miles from the ocean.

These particular specimens of sea horses were located in the coral reef area of Ripley's Aquarium. Their delicate and docile nature makes them one of the most fascinating species of marine live found in the reef.

Fossil Record Evidence of Evolution

The fossil record of seahorses is very sparse, with the best known and most studied fossil specimen being that of the H. ramulosus, from the Marecchia River Formation of Rimini Province, Italy, dating back to the Lower Pliocene, about 3 million years ago. Anatomically they are modified pipefish, as two fossilized specimens were found in Slovenia dating to close to 13 million years ago.

The seahorse and pipefish specimens separated during the Late Oligocene. Evidence suggests tectonic events which created large areas of shallow water. Since seagrass grows in shallow water it allowed seahorse habitats to flourish, “thus selecting for the camouflage offered by the seahorses’ upright posture.”

Seahorse Breeding

Seahorses court for several days, intertwining their tales in a dance shown here in the photo I took at Ripley's Aquarium. Seahorses will swim side by side holding tails and wheel around in unison in what is known as a “pre-dawn dance". They do this until the female is prepared to deposit her eggs on the male.

Female seahorses deposit their eggs into a pouch on the male’s belly where they are fertilized. Believe it or not, the male becomes pregnant and will brood the eggs until they’re hatched. It takes a total of nine weeks for the eggs to begin to hatch, depending on water conditions. Leafy sea dragons take about 28 months to reach sexual maturity.

Anatomy of Seahorses

The anatomy of seahorses is truly bizarre, what with the bony armor protecting their delicate bodies. They cling to sea grasses with their prehensile tails, much like a monkey. Their tubular snouts and small toothless mouths can create a powerful suction for ingesting prey.

Where are Seahorses found?

Seahorses are associated with aquatic vegetation in tropical and temperate oceans worldwide such as turtle grass, eelgrass or Sargassum weed. In fact, they can be quite difficult to locate considering the filaments on their bodies resemble the same plant life they hide within. The coral reefs, specifically gorgonian corals, are home to hundreds of seahorses.

What does a Seahorse eat?

Seahorses typically feed upon small fishes and crustaceans. With excellent camouflage and a lot of patience, seahorses ambush prey that float within striking range. Mysid shrimp and other small crustaceans are favorites, but some seahorses have been observed eating other kinds of invertebrates and even larval fish.

Final Thoughts

With their equine resemblance and delicate dance in the water, seahorses are a joy to watch for children and adults, and a topic of immense speculation with scientists.

Also check out:

Natural Selection: Not The Survival of the Fittest

Pictures compliments of the author and Wikipedia

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Comments (3)

Wow! I am always please reading your article Lauren, thank you and best wishes in 2011 and plus years!

Thanks Ron. To you as well.

Beautiful animals - this reminds me of when I was a kind - we were on Holiday and I found a dead seahorse dried up on the beach, poor thing, I kept it and still have it. In some countries they eat them.. I could never do this.