Pete Giwojna

Dear Howard:

Excellent, sir! It sounds like you’ve done a fine job training your new seahorses to use your feeding station. Well done.

I’m not surprised that your female was the first to resume feeding on the frozen Mysis and the first to start using your feeding station. Mature males are often naturally more shy and retiring than females, which can be quite brazen at times. I suspect this is due to their parental duties — during the breeding season, pair-bonded males are ordinarily ALWAYS pregnant, and they can’t risk exposing their precious cargo to any more risk than absolutely necessary.) The unfettered females tend to be far more footloose and fancy free by comparison.

Yup, sounds like your female may indeed be performing her morning greeting ritual for your benefit, Howard. Every day, shortly after dawn, pair-bonded seahorses meet at the male’s home base and perform a daily greeting ritual (Vincent and Sadler, 1995). In tropical and subtropical species, the morning greeting involves a dramatic color change followed by a brief ballet, and it is really an abbreviated version of their prolonged courtship display, only it anywhere from 5 minutes to perhaps 30 minutes rather than a few days (Vincent, 1990). In the aquarium, pair-bonded seahorses will conduct daily greetings exactly like those of their wild conspecifics.

Greeting begins when the seahorses approach one another each morning at first light, adopt their vivid courtship colors, and carry out the preliminary phases of courtship (Lourie, Vincent and Hall, 1999). Brightly adorned except for their heads and mid-ventral lines, which darken (Vincent, 1990), the partners proceed with their picturesque parallel promenade, tuck their heads and briefly conduct their familiar carousel dance, clasping their tails around a convenient perch and circling around it like merry-go-round ponies at a carnival (Giwojna, Feb. 2002).

Interestingly, it is always the female who both initiates and ends the daily greeting ritual (Vincent, 1990), by approaching the male at his home base to begin with and subsequently leaving his immediate vicinity after perhaps a quarter hour of such dancing.

In the aquarium, seahorses will often include their keeper in their greeting rituals and it sounds like your new Mustangs have already learned to recognize you as their feeder — the giver of gourmet delights.

Best of luck with your new Mustangs, Howard!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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