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How the Seahorse Got Its Curvaceous Shape

January 26th, 2011 01:31 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

If you’ve ever wondered why the seahorse has its elegantly curved body (aside from luring snorkelers into the water), wonder no more: it helps them hunt.

Researchers at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, led by biomechanicist Sam Van Wassenbergh, analyzed video footage of seahorses on the hunt and used mathematical models to come to the conclusion that a seahorse’s curvy neck lets it strike at more distant prey.

“They rotate their heads upward to bring their mouth close to the prey [passing above],” explained Dr Wassenbergh…. The creatures’ curved bodies mean that when they do this, their mouths also moved forward, helping to bring passing small crustaceans within sucking distance of their snouts. [BBC News]

He even has an evolutionary theory to back up his observations.

“My theory is that you have this ancestral pipefish-like fish and they evolved a more cryptic lifestyle,” said Dr Wassenbergh. [BBC News]

Unlike the seahorse, the related pipefish has a straight body and swims while attacking its prey. Seahorses, on the other hand, tend to hide out and wait for the prey to come to them. And according to this study, published in the journal Nature Communications, a longer striking distance is a big advantage for a couch-potato creature.

“Once this shift in foraging behavior is made, natural selection will favor animals that can increase the strike distance, which according to our study puts a selective pressure to increase the angle between head and trunk and to become what we now know as sea horses,” [said] researcher Sam Van Wassenbergh. [LiveScience]

Image: flickr / oscar alexander

Source: How the Seahorse Got Its Curvaceous Shape

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