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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Seahorse Dads

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about seahorses. Father's Day takes on special significance when it's the dad who gets pregnant and gives birth, as does this unusual fish species.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: It’s a boy. That’s the word when it comes to birthing seahorses. It’s not because of the sex of the newborns. No, it’s because it’s the father who gives birth in the seahorse family. You see, mom lays her eggs in Dad’s brood pouch. It’s called a marsupium. He fertilizes the eggs there, and tissue from his body surrounds the developing embryos, and capillaries provide them with oxygen. After a few weeks, dad goes into labor. The ordeal
Involves a few hours of dad pumping and jackknifing his torso and squeezing the fully formed babies out of his body. The kids have the same horse-like head and spiraling tail as their parents, but are only one centimeter long.

Their size puts them at risk of becoming dinner for other fish, though they do have some defenses. To camouflage themselves, seahorses can change color to match the place they live-- usually, sensitive coastal ecosystems such as corals and estuaries. Seahorses often wind up as by-catch in fishing nets meant to capture shrimp, and they’re also at risk from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, who use them as remedies for ailments ranging from asthma to impotence. With so many dangers lurking, no wonder seahorses like to stick close to home and mate for life. One thing they won’t have to worry about this week: where to send those Father’s Day cards. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.




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