Seahorse Mating is a Risky Gender-Bending Water Ballet

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Seahorses are famous for flipping the usual reproductive pattern on its head–a seahorse female impregnates the male by laying eggs in his pouch, and the male cares for the developing babies through an 18 day “pregnancy.” But you have to wonder: how does she get her eggs in there?

This new film of wild potbellied seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis), captured in Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, shows that it’s the culmination of a highly choreographed mating dance that starts when the male inflates his empty pouch until its opening gapes wide, and ends with them swimming face to face, bellies pressed together like slow-dancing teenagers at the school prom.

All the while, they’re in danger. Seahorses normally hide among the rocks and seagrass at the bottom of the bay. While they mate, they swim up into open water. That leaves them exposed, preoccupied, and an easy meal for predators.


Notes for the impatient: courtship starts at 1:14, the main event is at 3:08.

[Jones 2004 | Whittington et al. 2015]

Video by Pang Quong via YouTube

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