Dominance on the Reef

As a rule, seahorses are fairly peaceful creatures.

15A05 Kirin

They have no fangs, or claws, and rarely fight in any serious manner. This probably stems, in part, from the fact that seahorses are extremely susceptible to illness and infection, which means they cannot risk injury for the sake of dominance and display.

However, seahorses do have a pecking order, with some individuals taking more dominant roles in the “herd.” 

15E26 Kiring

In my tank, Kirin has established herself as the dominant female–and the dominant seahorse–in the group. While generally peaceful, she’s not above wrestling, or grabbing heads, if someone gets out of line or happens to hitch to a coral she wants to hitch on.

15E02 Kirin Portrait

Over the weekend, Kirin decided to leave her usual feeding bowl (which sits in a cave near the bottom of the reef) and eat from the bowl the other seahorses normally use at feeding time.

She swam to the bowl, and discovered Rygel already sitting there, waiting for breakfast.

15E26 Kirin noticing Rygel

After considering this for a moment, Kirin swam up and hitched to Rygel’s tail.

15E26 Kirin Grabbing Rygel

The message Kirin was sending was “move over, you’re hitched where I want to be” but Rygel–anticipating her breakfast–ignored it.

At which point Kirin used her size and strength to push Rygel under the feeding bowl–and hold her there while Kirin ate breakfast.

15E26 Kirin hitched

Rygel didn’t struggle, and didn’t seem too bothered by Kirin’s aggression. She simply waited until Kirin finished eating (at which point, Kirin released Rygel and swam away) and then moved back up to the bowl and finished her meal.

15E26 Kirin hitched 2

This was a little unusual–normally Rygel would have struggled free and left the area, or at least moved to a higher hitch in order to share the bowl with Kirin. I suspect she put up with it in part because Rygel had already eaten part of her breakfast before Kirin arrived at the bowl.

Kirin isn’t always this aggressive, either. She and Rygel get along fairly well, and spend many hours hitched side-by-side without any wrestling. As with other species, mealtime tends to bring out the dragon in everyone.