In the animal world, seahorse males would have the Father of the Year award tied up in perpetuity. After all, the male is the one who gets pregnant. The female lays her eggs in his pouch, where he fertilizes them and carries the developing young until they hatch. Then he gives birth in an explosion of tiny but fully formed seahorses.
But other members of the syngnathid family also depend on dad to carry the eggs. Among seadragons, both leafy and weedy, the female deposits 100 or more rose-colored eggs on a special patch on the male’s underside. The eggs develop for several weeks, then hatch over the course of several days. The miniature seadragons wriggle free of their eggs as the father swims, so they are distributed throughout their seagrass and kelp habitat.
Shedd’s weedy seadragons produced eggs for the first time this year, but the females did not successfully transfer the eggs to their mates. Meanwhile, in May, the adult leafies were moved from their Waters of the World exhibit to a 15,000-gallon reserve habitat to give them more space and solitude to breed. This is cutting-edge husbandry. Shedd and several other aquariums have seen their female leafies produce eggs, but so far successful transfer has not occurred. Establishing a breeding program would be a milestone in the conservation of these seahorse relatives. Both species of seadragons are protected in their native Australia, and exports are carefully regulated. As has happened with other rare marine species, once aquariums become adept at breeding seadragons, offspring can be shared for display with other zoological facilities, and more people can see and learn about these otherworldly fishes.
Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor