New research by Dr Camilla Whittington and her team at the University of Sydney has found male seahorses don’t just carry the developing babies in a pouch, they transport energy-rich fats to their progeny during pregnancy.
Seahorses and their relatives are the only vertebrates that have male pregnancy. The expectant fathers incubate developing babies inside a pocket called a “brood pouch”. We know a male seahorse can have more than a thousand embryos in the pouch at once but until now, researchers had limited understanding of how the babies are fed.
“This work adds to the growing evidence that male pregnancy in seahorses could be as complex as female pregnancy in other animals, including ourselves,” said Dr Whittington.
Seahorses are emerging as important model species for understanding the evolution of live-bearing reproduction, she continued.
“We can draw some parallels between seahorse pregnancy and human pregnancy,” she said. “Seahorse dads seem to do some of the same things that human mums do, including transporting nutrients and oxygen to developing embryos, and immune modulation to protect the babies from infection.”
Skalkos, Z.M.G., Van Dyke, J.U. & Whittington, C.M. Paternal nutrient provisioning during male pregnancy in the seahorse Hippocampus abdominalis. J Comp Physiol B (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-020-01289-y