Friday, June 15, 2012

Father's Day - Magnifying Some Magnificent Dads

 There are certainly many great fathers in the animal world. At the Tennessee Aquarium, visitors have witnessed both gentoo and macaroni fathers sharing duties rearing young at Penguins' Rock. Bluebird dads help raise young in the Cove Forest and various fish species are seen voraciously defending nesting sites or their offspring in both freshwater and saltwater displays.

But you really have to tip your hat to seahorse fathers, the only animals in the world that actually get pregnant and give birth. Some seahorse species can give birth to more than 1,000 babies at a time.

In this cell phone video, shot by Carol Haley, the Tennessee Aquarium's assistant curator of fishes, you see a lined seahorse dad giving birth. Amazing!

Aquarists routinely discover babies in the Seahorse Gallery and perform tiny underwater rodeos to round up "the hosses" to be raised off-exhibit until they are large enough to be placed on public view, or shared with other institutions that are also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Our staff has to develop especially keen eyes when looking for dwarf seahorse babies. Recently there has been a bit of a population boom of these almost impossibly small animals. "Dwarf seahorses, Hippocampus zosterae, are the smallest seahorses found off of the U.S. coast," said Carol Haley. "The name zosterae refers to the species of seagrass that occurs where they are found. They use their camouflage to blend in with the surrounding seagrass beds."
According to Haley, adult dwarf seahorses only reach a maximum size of just two inches! But even though you almost need a magnifying glass to see these magnificent dads (and moms), the babies aren't the tiniest tots in the sea. "Brood sizes are small, often less than 10 babies per clutch," said Haley. "But they are relatively large compared to other species of seahorses."
Newly emerged dwarf babies have working prehensile tails and eat newly hatched brine shrimp. They eat constantly an are usually large enough to go on display within about two months.
These dainty seahorses tend to be short-lived, usually less than two years. Fortunately for the Tennessee Aquarium, our dwarf seahorses reproduce frequently which allows us to have a sustainable population.
In the wild, habitat loss is one of the factors researchers point to as contributing to declines in dwarf seahorse populations. Read this article to learn how this species might soon be listed as an endangered species.
We'd like to say, "Happy Father's Day!" by offering this special coupon to visit the Tennessee Aquarium this weekend. Just print it out and bring it (and Dad) to the Aquarium ticketing center for a nice discount on admission.

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