Dancers of the Reef

Seahorses mate in mid-water, during an elaborate mating “dance” that can last for several hours before the transfer of eggs takes place. The male and female swim together both to bond and also to coordinate their movements so the female can deposit her eggs in the male’s pouch. (Not an easy feat when you have to accomplish the task in a current without any arms or legs.)

So far, Cygnus and Ceti haven’t actually managed a successful transfer. Ceti bred twice with her previous mate (little Ghillie, now abandoned in favor of the larger – though less intelligent – Cyg) but to date, Cygnus has dropped the eggs every time. However, what he lacks in agility, he more than makes up in enthusiasm, and although Ceti sulks when he drops the eggs it takes her only a day to forget the mishap.

Two weeks later, they’re always dancing again.

Most people never get to see a seahorse mating dance, which is sad because it’s a lovely combination of coordination … and the lack thereof.

The video below shows about a minute of Cygnus and Ceti “dancing” together. I had to shoot the video without the tank lights on, so you see an occasional reflection off the front of the glass (my apologies, though fortunately it doesn’t hurt the video quality much) and the video doesn’t hit sharp focus for the first 2-3 seconds, so hang in there, the rest is worth it. At about the 52 second mark, you’ll see Cygnus break away for a couple of “crunches” – flushing his pouch with water so it’s ready to take the eggs.

You may also notice that Cygnus looks more pale than usual. He’s normally black, but color-shifts to white during mating. Seahorses can change color at will, and display color variations in an attempt to impress a mate. Cyg has learned only one color change – to greyish-white, but fortunately Ceti doesn’t seem to mind.

I didn’t capture the egg transfer – that happened several hours later – and once again, Cygnus dropped the literal and proverbial balls.


Better luck next time, Cyg. My camera and I will be waiting.