Feeds

Adorable, much-loved SEAHORSES are VICIOUS SLURPING KILLERS

Magical docile attitude is just a front for expert stalking skills

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Seahorses may appear to be magical, happy underwater creatures, but they're actually vicious predators, capable of catching even the fleetest of their prey unawares despite the fact that they're terrible swimmers.

A yellow female kuda seahorse

Oh my God! Swim for your lives, it's a yellow female kuda seahorse

Seahorses are slow and awkward in the water, making them seem like docile beasts, but their heads are perfectly shaped for sneaking up on their favourite snack, the fast-moving copepods.

The teeny crustaceans are the top meal for seahorses, pipefish and sea dragons, which all come from the syngnathid family. They typically evade predators by detecting the waves created by their attacks and can jolt away at incredible speeds for their size - over 500 body lengths per second or the equivalent of a six-foot person swimming at 2,000mph (3,218kmph).

Boffins who became interested in how seahorses are able to chow down on copepods 90 per cent of the time they go hunting for them, found that the creatures' heads made them ideal stalkers.

"Seahorses have the capability to overcome the sensory abilities of one of the most talented escape artists in the aquatic world — copepods," said Brad Gemmell, research associate at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. "People often don't think of seahorses as amazing predators, but they really are."

Gemmell and his colleague Ed Buskey, professor of marine science, studied Hippocampus zosterae, the dwarf seahorse native to the Bahamas and the US. Using high-speed digital 3D holography techniques, they captured the seahorses in action, on the hunt for copepods.

The technique uses a microscope fitted with a laser and a high-speed digital camera to capture the rapid movements of tiny animals in a 3D volume of water, which showed that the seahorse's head has a kind of "no wake zone". To stalk its prey, the seahorse angles its head precisely so that this zone, just above and in front of its nostrils, lines up with its meal and no wave disturbance reaches it. Other animals out for a copepod snack, like the three-spine stickleback, have no such advantage.

"It's like an arms race between predator and prey, and the seahorse has developed a good method for getting close enough so that their striking distance is very short," Gemmell said.

Once the copepod is within range, it doesn't stand a chance. Seahorses use pivot feeding to eat, rapidly rotating their heads up to draw their meal in with suction. That gives it a range of only a millimetre, but the strike happens in less than a millisecond, much faster than the two to three milliseconds the copepod needs to escape.

The full study, "Morphology of seahorse head hydrodynamically aids in capture of evasive prey", was published in Nature Communications. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
Volcanic eruption in Iceland triggers CODE RED aviation warning
Lava-spitting Bárðarbunga prompts action from Met Office
LOHAN Kickstarter breaks NINETEEN THOUSAND of your EARTH POUNDS
That's right, OVER 9,000 beer tokens - and counting
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.