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DateLine Sunday, 19 August 2007

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Fascinating seahorses

While those of us like to own pets like dogs, cats, birds and fish, there are a few of us who prefer to have an uncommon pet such as a kola, mongoose or a snake. Seahorses too are a good choice for people of such tastes but require a lot of care and time. Let us have a brief idea on them to see if this pet will meet up with your tastes.

Seahorses are classified as fish, but they are very different from other fish because they have no scales, lack teeth, and do not have a stomach. There are 35 known species of seahorse around the world.

Seahorses can grow as large as 22 centimeters but are more commonly between 10 and 15 centimeters in length. Seahorses usually live in underwater seagrass meadows and among reefs.

They eat small crustaceans, worms and other invertebrates. Seahorses are masters of camouflage and can quickly change colour to avoid being eaten by larger fish and birds. Their eyes move independently - so one eye can look in one direction and the other eye can look at something else!

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about seahorses is how they reproduce - the male becomes pregnant! When seahorses mate, the female lays her eggs in the male's abdominal brood pouch. The male fertilises them and nurtures them by himself for up to six weeks when the baby seahorses are born.

Seahorses propel themselves by different means. The main thrust comes from their dorsal fin that beats 70 times a minute. Pectoral fins on side of the face are used to steer a course.

Seahorses also have a prehensile tail that wraps around objects so they can rest or hide themselves amidst protective plants.

Unfortunately, around the world seahorses are rapidly moving toward becoming an endangered species. There is a huge trade in seahorses and their underwater habitats are threatened by pollution.

Despite their attraction as aquarium fish, seahorses are difficult to maintain in an artificial environment. Conditions have to be perfect and they also require a constant supply of food. They require very specialised care, and are not a pet to be taken lightly.

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