I’m returning to the old blogging schedule, which means that Tuesday is…tank day.
Ironically, Kirin arrived as one of the weakest of my current seahorse crew. She had with a wonky tail (most likely pinched in shipping from the breeder) and had to be hospitalized (in a separate hospital tank I keep for this purpose) almost immediately upon arrival.
She was also the seahorse with the most cirri–the little projections that rise from the seahorse’s spine and crest–and the only one of the group to keep them into adulthood. In the wild, cirri serve as a form of natural camouflage, helping the seahorse hide in the seaweed and sea fans where they live and hunt.
Cirri give seahorses a distinct advantage in the wild, because they flow with the currents (like seaweed, or the arms of a coral) making the seahorse harder to spot. In captivity, most seahorses seem to lose their cirri as they mature, though scientists aren’t exactly certain why. The logical explanation, of course, is that the seahorse doesn’t need them, so they fall off and don’t regrow.
I named this seahorse “Kirin” because her cirri made her look like the mythological creature (sometimes romanized ‘qilin’), which is a harbinger of good fortune in Eastern mythology. Also, I’ve discovered that many creatures live up to their names…and it seemed like a good idea to give this weak little critter a powerful name, just in case.
It worked out better than I anticipated.
Kirin is the largest, and most dominant, of the current seahorse crew. She measures almost 7″ from nose to tail, and although she doesn’t bully the others, she’s the only seahorse that doesn’t defer to anyone at feeding time or when selecting a hitch. The others follow her lead, and the smaller ones–Magellan and Weeble–find her and hitch near her most of the time.
Kirin was the first to discover the feeding bowls, and the first to realize that going to the bowl at certain times of day meant getting fed. She’s also the first to swim to the bowl at feeding time–now 10am and 7pm–and will sit there, waiting to be fed, when she knows it’s the proper time.
She also swims to the bowl at 10pm–also a feeding time, when the growing babies needed feeding three times a day–in hopes of an extra meal. (If the others follow her lead, indicating they’re also hungry, she’ll usually get it, too.)
Syngnathids (the family to which seahorses belong) is the only one in which the males become pregnant. This gender role reversal carries through to behavior also. In seahorse groups, females tend to be more aggressive and dominant, while the males are often shy. My herd is no exception, and little Kirin, though weak at the start, has become the leader. Her sister, Vega, is almost as large, but nowhere near as dominant (though, as you’ll see next week, what Vega lacks in dominance, she makes up for in sneakiness).
I don’t have a “favorite” seahorse–each of them is special to me–but Kirin’s dominance makes her more visible than the others, which means she tends to show up in more of the photographs of the reef. The others, I have to look for, but Kirin is impossible to ignore.