No horsing around! Seahorses can spring their heads up in 0.002 seconds to snag unsuspecting prey, study finds

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  • Seahorses are ambush hunters who bang their heads to catch passing prey
  • They do this by acting like a spring, freeing a previously pulled taut tendon.
  • Experts from Tel Aviv University filmed seahorse attacks using high-speed cameras
  • He found that the high speed is accompanied by a powerful flow of water.
  • It helps seahorses suck even the most elusive prey into their mouths

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They may be one of the slowest swimmers in the world, but one study found that seahorses could raise their heads to intercept their prey in 0.002 seconds.

As ambush predators, seahorses spend most of their time anchored in coral or seaweed with their tails, with their heads tilted down, close to their bodies.

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When they sense that prey is passing over them, they lift their heads to catch it with incredible speed, which is how they can turn their bodies into a kind of spring.

The movement they enable – faster than any muscle contraction in the animal world – comes from an elastic tendon that they stretch using their back muscles.

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Lastly, fish use their neck bones as ‘triggers’, as you might find on crossbows, to raise their heads when necessary to consume their prey.

However, it was not clear how this motion actually allows seahorses to eat – a process that also requires them to simultaneously open their mouths to suck up the food.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University were able to characterize the seahorses’ ambush movements using high-speed cameras and laser-scanning technology.

The team found that a powerful current of water coupled with fast, spring-fired movements enables a seahorse to suck its prey directly into its mouth.

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They may be one of the slowest swimmers in the world, but seahorses (as shown in the picture) can raise their heads to stop their unsuspecting prey in 0.002 seconds, a study found Has gone

Experts have identified three seahorse species – Hippocampus jaikari, H.  fuscus and H.  High-speed photography used to image the hippocampus - hunting the end of a thin piece of wire

Experts have identified three seahorse species – Hippocampus jaikari, H. fuscus and H. High-speed photography used to image the hippocampus – hunting the end of a thin piece of wire

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They are such poor swimmers that sometimes they get tired and die.

Seahorses can gradually change color and skin texture to blend in.

They do not have a stomach and eat almost continuously to digest enough food.

Fish can move their eyes independently of each other.

They have prehensile tails which they use to capture corals and seaweeds.

Seahorses are monogamous and most species mate for a lifetime.

Talking about which, often the pair of pairs swim with each other with intertwined tails.

Females of the species lay their eggs in males – who go on to give birth.

Because of this, females can produce eggs much faster and males are almost continuously pregnant.

Unlike most animals, the vertebrae in their tails are square-shaped.

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The study was carried out by Tel Aviv University zoologist Roi Holzman and his colleagues, and conducted at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Elliot.

Both have produced three species – Hippocampus jaikari, H. fuscus and H. used high-speed photography to image the seahorses of the hippocampus – as they hunted down the end of a thin piece of wire.

Their cameras were capable of capturing each rapid ‘attack’ at a speed of 4,000 images per second. Simultaneously, a special laser system was used to image the flow of water around the fish as they were moving and sucking their prey.

Analysis of the captured images showed that the seahorse’s spring-like ability serves two purposes – facilitating rapid head movement and high-velocity to suck in prey up to 10 times faster than fish of similar size. Helping generate currents.

The pair’s measurements also helped determine how individual seahorse plans affect how they go about capturing prey.

“Our study shows that the head speed and the speed of the suction currents are determined by the length of a seahorse’s nose,” Professor Holzmann said.

‘From an evolutionary aspect, seahorses must choose between short noses for strong suction and moderate head lifting, or long noses for rapid head lifting and weak suction currents.

‘This option matches the available diet – species with longer noses tend to catch smaller, faster animals, while species with shorter noses are heavier, more difficult to catch.’

An analysis of high-speed photographs of seahorses ambushing prey has shown that their spring-like abilities serve two purposes – facilitating rapid head movement and hunts 10 times faster than fish of similar size. Helping generate high-velocity currents for sucking.  Image: Images of peak suction produced by H. fuscus (top), a zebrafish (middle) and a single selfish (bottom)

An analysis of high-speed photographs of seahorses ambushing prey has shown that their spring-like abilities serve two purposes – facilitating rapid head movement and hunts 10 times faster than fish of similar size. Helping generate high-velocity currents for sucking. Image: Images of peak suction produced by H. fuscus (top), a zebrafish (middle) and a single selfish (bottom)

As ambush predators, seahorses spend most of their time anchored in coral or seaweed with their tails, tilting their heads down, close to their bodies, as shown in the figure.

As ambush predators, seahorses spend most of their time anchored in coral or seaweed with their tails, tilting their heads down, close to their bodies, as shown in the figure.

Seahorses are not the only fish to sport this impressive spring mechanism, Professor Holzmann explained. In fact, they share it with other members of their family of so-called ‘misfit fish’ – which include alligator pipefish, cornetfish, and lobster.

“These fish are so called because of their strange shape which enables their bodies to be pulled into a waterfall,” he said.

‘The big question that applies to the evolution of the spring system is how and when it was formed.

Professor Holzmann concluded, ‘I hope that our recent study will lead to further studies designed to help solve the puzzle of spring fish.

The full findings of the study were published in Journal of Experimental Biology.

Professor Holzmann said,

“Our study shows that the head speed and the speed of the suction currents are determined by the length of a seahorse’s nose,” Professor Holzmann said. ‘From an evolutionary aspect, seahorses must choose between short noses for strong suction and moderate head lifting, or long noses for rapid head lifting and weak suction currents.

Seahorses are not the only fish to sport this impressive spring mechanism, Professor Holzmann explained.  Pictured: an alligator pipefish that can perform a similar feat

Seahorses share springing ability with other members of their family of so-called 'misfit fish' – which include alligator pipefish, cornetfish (pictured) and lobster

Seahorses are not the only fish for sport…

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