Scientists have often wondered why the seahorse, with its curvy neck and snout resembles a horse, to which it has no relationship, rather than its closest cousin, the straight bodied and rather ordinary looking - Pipefish. Now, a researcher believes he may have the answer and, as is the case in any kind of evolution - It's to do with survival.
To see if the animal uses its flexible neck to its advantage, a team of scientists led by Dr. Sam Van Wassenbergh, a biochemist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, conducted a number of experiments to observe the hunting and feeding techniques of the seahorse and the pipefish.
They first performed some computer simulations to see if the seahorse's curved shape gave it an edge over its cousin, when it came to catching prey. The simulations showed that the shape and posture of the fish was definitely an asset.
To corroborate the theory, they recorded the feeding on high-speed video, which they played back in ultra slow motion. They noticed that while the pipefish had to swim all the way to their prey, seahorses would wait a little distance away. Then, using their curved neck like a coiled-up spring, they would thrust forward and capture the unsuspecting tiny shrimp and fish larvae as they swam by. According to the calculations of the researchers, the springy neck allows the seahorse to reach distances of 20% greater than its straight-bodied cousin - A huge advantage in the ocean where every millimeter helps.
Dr. Wassenbergh believes that the seahorse adapted this bend and snap technique to compensate for being a very slow and poor swimmer and, that its elastic neck is a result of thousands of years of stretching and retreating as it tried to grab the food swimming past it. Whatever the reason, we think seahorses, are amongst the coolest looking fish. Don't you agree?
Sources: dailymail.co.uk, livescience.com, phsyorg.org