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Wednesday, 31 January 2007
Shameless seahorse shenanigans

The Times on the secret sex life of the saucy seahorse:

Seahorses may be graceful and elegant but the idea that they are monogamous and mate for life is just a myth, according to research.

A study indicates that the sea creatures are promiscuous, flighty and more than a little bit gay — none more so than the Australian seahorse. And unlike human rules of attraction, it was the members of the Hippocampus genus with the biggest bellies that attracted the most partners.

The results also suggested that of 3,168 recorded sexual encounters, 37 per cent were same-sex liaisons.

Scientists at fifteen Sea Life Centre aquariums around Britain studied ninety seahorses of three species from Australia, the Caribbean and the Channel. Until now many marine biologists had believed that seahorses were monogamous, and that theirs was one of the few species in which the male becomes pregnant and carries the eggs.

However, individual seahorses were recorded flirting with up to 25 potential partners a day. The Australian bigbellied seahorse was the most indiscriminate, mating with both females and males several times a day. Caribbean slender seahorses were also promiscuous. Of the three species studied, only some of the British spiny seahorse were faithful to one partner. Out of those, five pairs remained faithful, while twelve did not.

Flirting? Does this include remarks of an unbridled nature, as made by Charles II?

Paul Bullimore, a Sea Life Centre marine curator, said: “The results of the survey came as a revelation to all of us. The fabled monogamy of the seahorse really has been exposed as a myth. We were pretty sure there was far more promiscuity among seahorses than is generally acknowledged, but we hadn’t picked up on the same-sex liaisons.

“This bisexual activity was both a great surprise and a shock to many of us that work with the creatures. The observations of big-bellied seahorses suggest that neither males nor females of this species had any preferred partner. They really are indiscriminate and shameless creatures.”

The scientists were looking for signs of courtship, including colour changes, knotting of tails and synchronised swimming. The information was studied at the national seahorse breeding centre in the Sea Life Park, Weymouth.

A total of 1,986 “contacts” were recorded between males and females, and another 836 between females and 346 between males.

Posted on 01/31/2007 5:23 PM by Mary Jackson
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