Seahorses’ Shape Gives Them an Edge

A thorny seahorse (Hippocampus hystrix) from the southern Philippines.

IF YOU’VE EVER OBSERVED A SEAHORSE, its tail wrapped around a sea rod or some other feature, its demeanor would seem to suggest lethergy and a wish that you would just go away.


In reality, odd-shaped fishes as seahorses are, their curved bodies and horse-shaped head-and-neck anatomy give them an edge over their straight-shaped pipefish cousins by increasing the speed and distance with which they can capture prey (mostly small shrimps), according to a study by scientists at the University of Antwerp in Belgian and Arizona State University in Phoenix. The study was published in the online journal Nature Communications.


The research by Sam Van Wassenbergh, Gert Roos and Lara Ferry used a biomechanical analysis and video studies to confirm that seahorses’ body architecture helps them lunge farther from their stationary, tail-attached positions to capture passing shrimps. Compared to the pipefish from which they evolved, seahorses demonstrated a 20 percent strike distance advantage.

Publication:  Nature Communications  Volume: 2, Article number: 164 DOI:doi:10.1038/ncomms1168   Published  25 January 2011