AUG 13, 2020 2:31 PM PDT

Study Confirms Nutrient Transport in Pregnant Male Seahorses

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Seahorses are some of the most extraordinary fish in the ocean, and one of their most noteworthy features is male pregnancy. According to a recent study from the University of Sydney, seahorses and other syngnathids (seahorses, pipefishes, and sea dragons) are the only vertebrates that have male pregnancy, allowing "a unique opportunity for comparative evolutionary research."

New research about seahorse pregnancy was published last month in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B. According to the study, previous research examining Syngnathidae brooding structures discovered that seahorses feature the most complex brood pouch. Additionally, seahorses likely "undergo the most substantial physiological and morphological changes during gestation, which likely facilitate osmoregulation, immunological protection, oxygenation, and waste removal."

Until now, information on seahorse embryo nutrition has been limited. This new study, led by Dr. Camilla Whittington, provides insight into how developing embryos receive nourishment from the male. As Dr. Whittington states in a news release from the University of Sydney, "This work adds to the growing evidence that male pregnancy in seahorses could be as complex as female pregnancy in other animals, including ourselves." Dr. Whittington continues that male seahorses "seem to do some of the same things that human mums do, including transporting nutrients and oxygen to developing embryos, and immune modulation to protect the babies from infection."

Researchers cycled nineteen female and twenty-one male Hippocampus abdominalis (pot-bellied seahorses) in a breeding tank to conduct this research. The researchers timed their work carefully to note the exact time that mating occurred and luckily captured footage of the ritualistic courtship behaviors, a rare sight in captive seahorses.

The study compared the dry masses of newly fertilized eggs to the masses of fully developed neonates. Additionally, they measured lipid content to detect any changes during embryonic development. The study found no significant decrease in lipid mass throughout development, suggesting that the father replaced the energy-rich fats.

According to the university's news release, this study is the first experimental evidence and confirmation of "patrotrophy"—the transport of nutrients from dad to offspring, and specifically in seahorses. The study concludes by suggesting further research investigating whether siblings absorb nutrients from underdeveloped embryos, a phenomenon that occurs in some pipefish species. 

Sources: The University of Sydney, Journal of Comparative Physiology B

About the Author
BS Biology
Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
MAY 20, 2022
Plants & Animals
Friendly Gut Bacteria Can Help Eliminate Pathogens
MAY 20, 2022
Friendly Gut Bacteria Can Help Eliminate Pathogens
Probiotics play an important role in our gut health. They essentially impact the make-up of bacteria in our gut, which c ...
JUN 22, 2022
Microbiology
How Mites That Live on Our Faces are Evolving to Become Symbionts
JUN 22, 2022
How Mites That Live on Our Faces are Evolving to Become Symbionts
Our bodies contain huge numbers of microbes - inside and out. We even have face mites. New research has shown that the m ...
JUL 12, 2022
Plants & Animals
Gardening Lowers Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
JUL 12, 2022
Gardening Lowers Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
In a new study published in PLOS ONE, a research team from the University of Florida shows how gardening, even for novic ...
JUL 14, 2022
Plants & Animals
Using Worms to Study Precision Medicine
JUL 14, 2022
Using Worms to Study Precision Medicine
Personalized medicine refers to making decisions about treatment that are optimized to a specific individual, often as a ...
JUL 20, 2022
Plants & Animals
Food Prices Out of Control. Pollinators Could Help
JUL 20, 2022
Food Prices Out of Control. Pollinators Could Help
Rising food prices continue to make headlines. Food prices in general have jumped about 10% over the past year. Certain ...
JUL 27, 2022
Plants & Animals
Green Tea Lowers Blood Sugar, Improves Gut Health
JUL 27, 2022
Green Tea Lowers Blood Sugar, Improves Gut Health
A new study from researchers at the Ohio State University represents one of the first attempts to examine the link betwe ...
Loading Comments...