Tag Archives: seahorse

Seahorse app

App Helps Seahorse Research

Marine conservationists have launched a smartphone app in the hope of discovering new information about some of the ocean’s most mysterious and threatened animals — seahorses — and paving the way for similar efforts with other difficult-to-study species.

With iSeahorse Explore, anyone can contribute to marine conservation with a few taps of their phone. The iPhone app is designed for people to quickly log seahorse sightings whenever they encounter an animal in the wild.

The app is a result of a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago.

“We’ve made important scientific breakthroughs with seahorses in recent years, but they remain incredibly enigmatic animals,” says Amanda Vincent, director of Project Seahorse.

Thanks to their small size and ability to blend into their surroundings, seahorses are difficult to study in the wild. Of the 48 seahorse species listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 26 are considered ‘Data Deficient’—meaning that there isn’t enough information for us to know whether these species are thriving, disappearing, or something in between.

“We know that seahorses are threatened by overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and habitat loss. Now we need to pinpoint populations and places that most need conservation action,” says Heather Koldewey, co-founder of Project Seahorse and Head of Global Conservation Programmes at ZSL.The app and its feature-rich companion website, http://www.iSeahorse.org, represent a pilot collaboration with iNaturalist.org, a leading “citizen science” group.

Approximately 13 million seahorses are traded globally, live and dead, every year around the world. They are used in traditional Chinese medicine, for display in aquariums and as curios and souvenirs.

Male brooding means that young depend on parental survival for far longer than in most fish. Many species mate for life so widowed animals don’t reproduce until they have found a new partner. Their low population density and low mobility means that this can take some time. Habitat degradation is also a real threat to populations as they mainly inhabit shallow, coastal areas, which are highly influenced by human activities.

Where seahorses are monogamous, their pair-bonds are reinforced by daily greetings, during which the female and male change colour and promenade and pirouette together. The dance lasts several minutes, and then the pair separates for the rest of the day.

Seahorses range in size from the tiny Hippocampus denise which is just 16 mm, to the 35 cm (1 foot) Pacific seahorse. Seahorses are opportunistic predators, sitting and waiting until prey come close enough and then sucking them rapidly from the water with their long snouts. Their eyes move independently of each other, maximizing their search area. They will eat anything small enough to fit into their mouths

The name hippocampus comes from the ancient Greek, loosely hippos meaning horse and campus meaning sea monster. Hippocampi refer to the mythical creatures on which the sea gods rode. Early zoologists initially classified seahorses as insects not fish.

You can download the iSeahorse iPhone app from https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iseahorse-explore/id705658119.

Project Seahorse is recognised by the IUCN as the global authority on seahorses and their relatives. The group works to protect seahorses in order to support ocean conservation more broadly, generating cutting-edge research and using it to inform highly effective conservation interventions.?

robotics, seahorse

Seahorse Armour Gives Insight Into Robotic Designs

The tail of a seahorse can be compressed to about half its size before permanent damage occurs, engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have found. The tail’s exceptional flexibility is due to its structure, made up of bony, armored plates, which slide past each other. Researchers are hoping to use a similar structure to create a flexible robotic arm equipped with muscles made out of polymer, which could be used in medical devices, underwater exploration and unmanned bomb detection and detonation.

Materials science professors Joanna McKittrick and Marc Meyers, had sought bioinsipiration by examining the armor of many other animals, including armadillo, alligators and the scales of various fish. This time, they were specifically looking for an animal that was flexible enough to develop a design for a robotic arm.

“The tail is the seahorse’s lifeline,” because it allows the animal to anchor itself to corals or seaweed and hide from predators, said Michael Porter, a Ph.D. student in materials science at the Jacobs School of Engineering. “But no one has looked at the seahorse’s tail and bones as a source of armour.”

Most of the seahorse’s predators – including sturtles, crabs and birds – capture the fish by crushing them. Engineers wanted to see if the plates in the tail act as an armour. Researchers took segments from seahorses’ tails and compressed them from different angles. They found that the tail could be compressed by nearly 50 percent of its original width before permanent damage occurred. That’s because the connective tissue between the tail’s bony plates and the tail muscles bore most of the load from the displacement. Even when the tail was compressed by as much as 60 percent, the seahorse’s spinal column was protected from permanent damage.

The seahorse’s tail is typically made up of 36 square-like segments, each composed of four L-shaped corner plates that progressively decrease in size along the length of the tail. Plates are free to glide or pivot. Gliding joints allow the bony plates to glide past one another. Pivoting joints are similar to a ball-and-socket joint, with three degrees of rotational freedom. The plates are connected to the vertebrae by thick collagen layers of connective tissue. The joints between plates and vertebrae are extremely flexible with nearly six degrees of freedom.

“Everything in biology comes down to structures,” Porter said.

The researchers detailed their findings in the March 2013 issue of the journal Acta Biomaterialia.

Further Reading:
UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

The Seahorse is Creature of the Month

Seahorses are delightful to spot, curling onto sponges, coral or sea grass. They range in size from the tiny Hippocampus denise which is just 16 mm, to the 35 cm (1 foot) Pacific seahorse.

Seahorses are not easily seen as they blend in with their surroundings. They can change skin colour to match their environment and even grow skin filaments to imitate seaweed or sea grass growths.

The seahorse is remarkable as the male becomes pregnant. The female seahorse deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch where they are fertilised. The eggs remain in the male’s pouch until they hatch, when the male gives birth to tiny seahorses. The time to hatching takes between 10 days and four weeks, depending on the species and water temperature. Male seahorses are often pregnant for as many as 7 months in the year. The natural lifespan of seahorses is not known, but believed to be from one year for small species to five years for a larger species.

Seahorses are opportunistic predators, sitting and waiting until prey come close enough and then sucking them rapidly from the water with their long snouts. Their eyes move independently of each other, maximizing their search area. They will eat anything small enough to fit into their mouths

The name hippocampus comes from the ancient Greek, loosely hippos meaning horse and campus meaning sea monster. Hippocampi refer to the mythical creatures on which the sea gods rode. Early zoologists initially classified seahorses as insects not fish.

All seahorses for which data is available are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as either Vulnerable or Endangered. This means they are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. There are many reasons for their vulnerability. Seahorses are exploited for traditional medicines and the aquarium trade. Male brooding means that young depend on parental survival for far longer than in most fish. Many species are monogamous so widowed animals don’t reproduce until they have found a new partner. Their low population density and low mobility means that this can take some time. Habitat degradation is also a real threat to populations as they mainly inhabit shallow, coastal areas, which are highly influenced by human activities.

Further Reading

IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 20 April 2007.

Project Seahorse – http://seahorse.fisheries.ubc.ca/

Seahorse photo taken in Dominica, copyright Harald Jahn.

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