Re:spilled eggs

Pete Giwojna

Dear seahorse love:

Nope, when you see eggs that have been spilled that doesn’t necessarily mean that the female’s entire clutch of ripe ova has been dropped. With young pairs, it’s not at all uncommon for the male to receive some of the eggs, or even the bulk of the eggs, but for some of them to be spilled as well. Your stallion may well have received a number of the eggs and fertilized them as they were transferred to his brood pouch. If so, he will undergo pregnancy as usual but the number of young he gives birth to baby smaller than normal.

Hippocampus erectus ova are bright orange ovoids about 1.5 mm in diameter. Unlike most fish eggs, which are round or nearly so, seahorse eggs are pear-shaped. They are full of oil droplets and rich in carotenoids (yellow to red pigments), which help to provide an intracellular source of oxygen for the fetal fry. The presence of these pigments gives the eggs their characteristic orange coloration. The eggs are negatively buoyant and sink to the bottom when released.

Young ponies and inexperienced pairs often find coitus awkward and difficult to accomplish successfully, and when they don’t make the crucial connection smoothly, it’s not unusual for some of the eggs to be lost during the transfer. As you know, the actual transfer of eggs takes place at the apex of the copulatory rise while the couple is suspended in midwater or slowly descending toward the bottom — a maneuver that is every bit as tricky as it sounds. Coitus is marked by an extremely awkward, fleeting embrace, aptly described as little more than a brief belly-to-belly bumping.

As you can imagine, many difficult and delicate maneuvers are sometimes required to bring the pair into proper position for this most improbable merging, and inexperienced pairs often struggle to get it right. The female will attempt to insert her oviduct into the gaping aperture of the male’s inflated brood pouch. An inexperienced pair will often end up misaligned, perhaps at right angles to one another or with one of the partners too high or too low to join. This is very typical of the many false starts and abortive attempts that are ordinarily involved. The frustrated couple may even separate to rest on the bottom briefly between mating attempts. They may require many such rises before the proper positioning is achieved and the crucial connection is finally made.

So under certain circumstances, it’s not at all unusual for eggs to be spilled while mating or even for a female to drop her entire clutch of eggs, if necessary. As long as your tank is tall enough to allow your seahorses to mate comfortably, you shouldn’t be at all concerned because some of the eggs were dropped. Practice makes perfect, and sooner or later your pair will get it right and begin producing full broods with clocklike regularity.

At any rate, the spilled eggs are a sure sign that one or more of your stallions is trying hard to get pregnant and that at least one of the females is receptive and doing her best to oblige him, so if your male is not actually pregnant at the moment, chances are good that he will be before too long. However, a female that has dropped her clutch of eggs normally won’t hydrate more eggs and attempt to mate again until the next breeding cycle, so if the stallion missed all of the eggs, your pair may have to wait a few more weeks before they try again.

Congratulations on witnessing the mateship ritual and transfer of the eggs! Here’s hoping that a healthy brood of babies will soon be forthcoming.

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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