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Breeding Seahorses

seahorse spawningbreeding seahorses

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Seahorses breed frequently in home aquariums. They are prone to monogamous relationships. The courtship ritual between seahorses is a long arduous process that takes several days. Both seahorses’ colors will intensify in the course of courtship. Courtship begins with them swimming side by side while holding each other’s tails. They will wheel around in unison as precursor to spawning. This display of affection has become known as the “pre-dawn dance.” Eventually they will enter into the mating dance that will often continue for as long as 8 hours. During this time the male seahorse  will pump water into the egg pouch on his truck. The egg pouch will expand and open to display its appealing emptiness to the female. They will then let go of their anchors and drift upward snout to snout often spiraling around each other as they rise. The female will then use her ovipositor to insert her eggs into the male’s brooding pouch for fertilization. The female's body will grow slimmer as she releases her eggs. The male’s body will swell accordingly from the deposited eggs. Both seahorses will then sink back down to the bottom and the female will swim away. Scientists believe this complicated breeding ritual serves to synchronize the couple for the deposit and fertilization of the eggs.

The fertilized eggs will become enveloped with tissue and embedded in the brood pouch. The pouch will regulate oxygen to the eggs and act as an incubation chamber. The male’s body will begin producing a hormone called prolactin. This hormone is delivered directly into the pouch. Prolactin is the same hormone responsible for the production of milk in mammals. Prolactin will provide nutrition for the newly hatched seahorses. The incubation period or pregnancy will last from 2 to 4 weeks depending on the species.

The female will visit the male every morning during the incubation period. She will hold the male’s tail and they will wheel around amongst the sea grass fronds in their natural habitat for several minutes. Then she will simply swim away until the next morning rolls around.

Shortly after the fry hatch the male’s body will undergo a series of muscular contractions. These contractions will act to expel the newborn from his pouch. The average release of young is 100-200 newborns. The number can be as low as 5 or 6 or as high as 1,500 depending on the particular species.  Males typically expel their young at night. By morning the male is ready to begin the cycle all over again.

Seahorses do not care for their young once they are released from the protection of the brooding pouch. They are simply left to drift away in ocean currents. Fewer than 5 out of 1,000 newly born seahorses will survive to reach adulthood. As bad as these odds may appear, they are actually one of the higher survivability rates among aquatic saltwater species. The fact that the eggs are secure in the protective environment of the male’s brooding pouch until they hatch is the most significant contributing factor toward their survival rates. Most marine species eggs are simply abandoned to be consumed by what ever fish comes across them.
Environmental Parameters


pH Level Specific Gravity
72-78  °F 8.1-8.4 1.007-1.025

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