Why Seahorses Are So Curvy

Scientists say odd shape makes them better hunters

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 30, 2011 10:13 AM CST

(Newser) – The seahorse is one of the more unusual-looking creatures in the oceans, and now scientists say they've unlocked the secret to the curvy shape—it's all about hunting. Seahorses feed by waiting for their prey to swim by, then striking; their curved neck gives them more range to their attacks. "It's subtle, but small changes like this drive evolution," says the accompanying video to the story in Discover Magazine.

Scientists made their discovery by analyzing videos and making mathematical models of feeding seahorses. The seahorse evolved from pipefish, long, straight fish that swim while feeding. The seahorse, however, is fairly stationary, letting the tiny (and no doubt yummy) crustaceans come to it. “Once this shift in foraging behavior is made, natural selection will favor animals that can increase the strike distance," says one researcher.

A sea dragon seahorse is seen in an aquarium in Tyler, Texas, Thursday, June 14, 2007.
A sea dragon seahorse is seen in an aquarium in Tyler, Texas, Thursday, June 14, 2007.   (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)
Two Barbour's Seahorses are seen at the Taiwan International Aquarium Expo in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Nov. 6, 2009.
Two Barbour's Seahorses are seen at the Taiwan International Aquarium Expo in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Nov. 6, 2009.   (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
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