Hippocampus Haven

Yes! Seahorses are native to the Chesapeake Bay. Among preferred habitats of these delightful animals are the once extensive beds of submerged grasses in higher salinity bay waters. Come peer between blades of eel grass and turtle grass to find our seahorses and their close cousins the pipefish. The abandoned pier piling is coated in barnacles and sea grapes, a perfect place for butterflyfish to graze.

Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) provides a critical habitat for other animals as well. Molting blue crab ("peelers") shelter here to avoid predation in their softened state; bay scallops sit quietly, filtering the waters - only when disturbed by potential predators do they gallop away, propelled by the clamping together of their two shells; whole schools of juvenile fish seek respite, waiting for a day when they can swim freely in the open waters as larger predators themselves.

Only a select few of these species are on exhibit at any time, though all are representative of Hippocampus Haven habitats.

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Chain pipefish

Scientific name: 
Syngnathus louisianae

Key characteristics for distinction: Long, thin body covered with rings of bony plates. Long snout. Brownish, fan-shaped tail fin. The common name of the species is derived from the long row of chainlike diamond-shaped marks along the lower side. The dorsal fin of syngnathids is usually aligned with tail and trunk rings.

Coloration: brownish to pale

Feeding habits/specializations: prey mostly on small crustaceans such as shrimps, amphipods and crabs

Reproduction: Ovoviviparous. The male carries the eggs in a brood pouch which is found under the tail. Unlike most seahorses, pipefishes of the genus Syngnathus incubate eggs in an inverted pouch. Fertilization occurs after the female transfers the eggs, and incubation lasts until embryos develop into juveniles. Studies suggest that reproduction peaks in late spring and early summer.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 15 in

Predators: Little information exists about predators of the chain pipefish, but the ability of the species to camouflage itself between seagrass blades and among clumps of algae reduces predation. Still, individuals are likely preyed upon by other fishes and birds.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Sources: fishbase.org, chesapeakebay.net


034-Northern_Pipefish

Dusky pipefish

Scientific name: 
Syngnathus floridae

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated. Usually in association with seagrass beds and drift algae.

Key characteristics for distinction: Long, thin body covered with rings of bony plates. Long snout. Brownish, fan-shaped tail fin.

Coloration: vary in color from whitish to brownish, with tan to nearly black markings

Feeding habits/specializations: prey mostly on small crustaceans such as shrimps, amphipods and crabs

Reproduction: Ovoviviparous. The male carries the eggs in a brood pouch which is found under the tail. Unlike most seahorses, pipefishes of the genus Syngnathus incubate eggs in an inverted pouch. Fertilization occurs after the female transfers the eggs, and incubation lasts until embryos develop into juveniles. Studies suggest that reproduction peaks in late spring and early summer.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 9.8 in

Predators: Little information exists about predators of the chain pipefish, but the ability of the species to camouflage itself between seagrass blades and among clumps of algae reduces predation. Still, individuals are likely preyed upon by other fishes and birds.

Conservation status: least concern

Sources: fishbase.org, Chesapeakebay.net


036-Fourspine_Stickleback

Fourspine stickleback

Scientific name: 
Apeltes quadracus

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish. Adults occur mainly along weedy bays and backwaters, entering brackish water and to a limited extent, fresh water

Key characteristics for distinction: bony ridge on either side of the abdomen; four spines on their back (three large and one that is attached to the dorsal fin)

Coloration: vary in color from brownish-green to black with dark, mottled patterns.

Feeding habits/specializations: Mainly eat tiny crustaceans.

Reproduction: Fourspine sticklebacks spawn in late April-early May among bay grasses beds near the shoreline. Male fourspines have bright red pelvic fins during breeding. The male uses grasses and weeds to build a cup-shaped nest; one or more females lays eggs into the nest; the protective male guards the eggs and young for several weeks, keeping the nest clean and attacking other fish that swim too close

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2.5 in

Predators: Larger fish

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: Male builds the next and guards the eggs and young after the female hatches them.

Sources: fishbase.org, chesapeakebay.net


035-Lined_Seahorse

Lined seahorse

Scientific name: 
Hippocampus erectus

Habitat: The lined seahorse occurs at depths from 2-230 feet (.5-70 m) and is often observed clinging to aquatic vegetation including mangroves, seagrasses, sponges, corals, and floating sargassum. Those that reside with sargassum often have protuberances and fleshy tabs that aid in camouflage. This seahorse is also found associated with man-made structures. Adults may be associated with vegetation or swimming freely in the midwater while newborn and juvenile lined seahorses tend to swim close to the surface of the water. During the winter months, this species moves into deeper waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: The large and hardy lined seahorse is deep-chested and robust. Instead of scales, this seahorse has skin that is stretched tightly over a bony armor that is arranged as a series of rings. At the end of the tubular snouth is a small, toothless mouth. The gills are tufted and lobe-like with gill openings restricted to the upper border of the operculum. The pelvic and anal fins are absent, the dorsal fin is spineless, and the tail is prehensile. The coronet is variable and low and appears as a triangular wedge or ridge-like with sharp edges or spines. The first, third, fifth, seventh and eleventh trunk rings are enlarged which distinguishes it from other species of seahorses that typically have enlarged first, fourth, seventh, and eleventh trunk rings.

Coloration: The basic color of the lined seahorse varies from gray, orange, brown, yellow and red to black while brown specimens tend to be paler on their front side. The body often has a characteristic pattern of white lines following the neck contour from which this fish gets its common name of "lined seahorse". Small white dots are located on the tail along with darker or paler saddles across the back.

Feeding habits/specializations: Seahorses lack teeth however they do have a long snout to accommodate their diet of small shrimp, very small fish, plants, and plankton which they swallow whole. Seahorses are slow-moving so rather than chasing down prey, they use their elongated snout as a pipette to suck in small crustaceans including shrimp. Other prey items include amphipods, copepods, polychaetes, and gastropods.

Reproduction: Seahorses are sexually dimorphic, with the presence of a brood pouch at the base of the abdomen of males the most obvious structural difference. Males also have proportionally longer tails than do the females. Mating with a single partner for an entire season or lifetime. The courtship behaviors are complex with partners displaying changes in color becoming pale to whitish. The male inflates his pouch prior to pursing the female, signaling his readiness to mate. The female then transfers between 250-650 eggs to the brood pouch of the male which he then promptly seals and fertilizes the eggs. The brood pouch protects the developing embryos and provides them with oxygen through a capillary network. Development in the brood pouch is 20-21 days followed by hatching. The hatched embryos are carried within the pouch until they can actively swim. The father seahorse holds fast to an object with his tail, then bends backward and forward rapidly, opening the pouch to let a young seahorse out. These motions are repeated until the pouch is emptied.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 7.5 in

Predators: Although lined seahorses are well-camouflaged among aquatic vegetation, mobility is limited making this species somewhat vulnerable to predation. Larger fishes prey on adults and juveniles including dolphinfish, tuna, and sharks. In captive situations, parental males have been documented as cannibalizing small numbers of their own young.

Importance to humans: Seahorses are not targeted in fisheries in the western Atlantic Ocean, however they are a targeted fish in other regions where they are commonly traded for ornamental display, aquarium fishes, and traditional Chinese medicine. It is also commonly taken as bycatch in the shrimp trawl and other fisheries off of Florida, Mexico, Central America, and South America. It is also susceptible to habitat degradation due to coastal development and marine pollution.

Conservation status: The lined seahorse is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List as "Vulnerable" due primarily to indirect evidence that numbers are continuing to decline which has raised concern.

Fun fact: Seahorses mate with a single partner for an entire season or a lifetime.

Sources: flmnh.ufl.edu


034-Northern_Pipefish

Northern pipefish

Scientific name: 
Syngnathus fuscus

Habitat: Marine; freshwater; brackish. Inhabits seagrass beds in bays and estuaries, but also enters fresh water. Resident in estuaries during spring through fall, migrates into near shore continental shelf waters during winter. Found in waters of 4-17 °C.

Key characteristics for distinction: Long, thin body covered with rings of bony plates, long snout, brown fan-shaped tail.

Coloration: vary in color from pale tan to brown with mottled tannish and brown markings.

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats mostly tiny crustaceans; may also feed on fish eggs, very small juvenile fish and other small aquatic animals.

Reproduction: Spawn between April-October with a peak in May-June. The female lays her eggs into the male’s brood pouch where they are fertilized. The male incubates the eggs for approximately two weeks before they hatch. He then released a cloud of tiny, fully-formed pipefish from his pouch into the water.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 13 in

Predators: Believed to have few predators due to their ability to camouflage themselves within grass beds. Pipefish imitate blades of grass by aligning themselves vertically within grass beds and swaying softly. Maybe preyed upon by bass, gars, perch, drums and weakfish.

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Northern pipefish also known as common pipefish.

Sources: fishbase.org, chesapeakebay.net


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Spotfin butterflyfish

Scientific name: 
Chaetodon ocellatus

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated. Inhabit shallow, coral reefs with clear water. Juveniles of this species reside in seagrass beds.

Key characteristics for distinction: Develop dusky bands at night. The body is thin, deep, and discus-shaped with a small mouth and comb-like teeth.

Coloration: The spotfin butterflyfish has a white body with a black bar that runs vertically through the eye and across the head. There is a second black bar that runs from the base of the dorsal fin to the base of the anal fin in juveniles. A large black spot is located at the base of the soft portion of the dorsal fin and a small black spot on the posterior tip of the fin. A thin yellow bar extends from the gill opening to the base of the pectoral fin. The dorsal, caudal, and anal fins are yellow while the dorsal and anal fins have narrow, submarginal blue bands. This fish undergoes a dramatic change of color at night with dark bands appearing on the body.

Feeding habits/specializations: During the day it feeds on sea anemones and tube worms. Its small, projectile mouth is adept at crevice feeding, where some of its food likes to hide. The bristle-like teeth, arranged in narrow bands in the jaws, are useful for scraping at the invertebrates, mainly the zoantharians, polychaete worms, gorgonians and tunicates make up its diet.

Reproduction: Butterflyfish spawning occurs at dusk and typically involves only pairs. Fish chase each other about the reef during courtship, doing headstands and lateral displays. The pair circle frequently until one fish breaks off and swims away, with the other close behind. Spawning has not been observed in this species, however it is thought to occur year round, peaking in early summer. Within a day after fertilization, the eggs hatch into minute planktonic larvae.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 8 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: Fish chase each other about the reef during courtship, doing headstands and lateral displays.

Sources: fishbase.org, flmnh.ufl.edu


037-Threespine_Stickleback

Threespine stickleback

Scientific name: 
Gasterosteus aculeatus aculeatus


Distribution: Circumarctic and temperate regions: Extending south to the Black Sea, southern Italy, Iberian Peninsula, North Africa; in Eastern Asia north of Japan (35°N), in North America north of 30-32°N; Greenland. 

Habitat: Found mostly in shallow, vegetated areas near the shoreline.

Key characteristics for distinction: Threespines have three spines on their back (two large and one small); bony plates running along their sides.

Coloration: vary in color from gray to olive to brown, with black speckles all over

Feeding habits/specializations: tiny crustaceans

Reproduction: Threespine sticklebacks are anadromous, spawning from late February-September in the fresh and brackish waters of western shore rivers. Male threespines develop a reddish belly during breeding; male builds a ball-shaped nest of leaves in the soft, muddy bottom, into which the female lays 75-100 eggs; male cares for the eggs until they hatch and the young are able to take care of themselves.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 4.3 in

Predators: larger fish

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: least concern

Fun facts: One of the most scientifically studied non-game fishes

Sources: fishbase.org, Chesapeakebay.net