Love on the Reef

Seahorses mate in mid-water, and mated pairs engage in elaborate courtship rituals involving tail-holding, “carouseling” around one another while swimming, and color-changing displays. Mated pairs also seem to enjoy spending time together, and often hitch together in a sea fan or other favorite hitching spot.

The young seahorses in my tank haven’t had a chance to observe any older seahorses “dancing,” but that hasn’t stopped them from figuring the courtship rituals out on their own. Over the weekend, Vega and Moya (who ended up being male, despite his feminine-sounding name) started courtship behaviors. They spent a lot of time together, hitched in the sea fan and flirting.

15C09 Vega and Moya sea fan

By Sunday afternoon, they started experimenting with the mating dance.

The transfer of eggs from the female seahorse to the male’s pouch (in seahorse species, the male experiences a true pregnancy and delivers the babies in an impressive, fast live birth) takes place in mid-water, during the mating dance. It’s not unusual for seahorse pairs to spend many hours practicing the dance throughout their mated lives.

Young pairs, in particular, need a lot of practice to get it right. One false move and the female will “drop” the eggs outside the male’s pouch, at which point the potential offspring become a tasty meal for any fish or crustacean lucky enough to discover them. 

15C09 Egg thief

Vega is larger than Moya, because she’s three months older than he is. In time, their sizes will equalize, which will also make mating easier. However, they’re not letting the difference stop them.

It’s unlikely that they will get the dance right the first time, or even the second–but they’ll keep trying, and eventually they’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, it’s fun to watch them dance and bond with one another on the reef.