Seahorses are fantastic sea creatures not only because of their appearance but also their ability to change their colors. Seahorse colors could change for days, weeks, and even hours to match with their background. However, there is a common misconception about seahorses, especially about their colors. Their colors are not fixed, and it rapidly changes depending on their moods, surroundings, age, diet and other factors.
Perhaps you want to know why seahorse colors change. Although this transformation is unbelievably beautiful, it may also appear seamless. That’s why in this blog, you will know the factors and reasons why seahorse colors change to help you understand why it happens. It will make you understand more about it, especially if you’re fascinated with seahorses.
How do Seahorses Change Colors?
Before knowing why seahorse colors change, perhaps you should know how they do it. Below are some of the information to help you understand more about seahorse colors changing.
Like other fish in the ocean, seahorses can also change their colors using their small, sack-like organs called chromatophores. These are embedded in their skin, and each contains 1 of 3 or 4 pigments. It’s the contraction or expansion of the chromatophores through tiny muscles that will result in different colors displayed with the changing intensity.
Typically, seahorses can only carry a handful of varieties of chromatophores. This will help them change into various colors through mixing and matching the available pigments.
The chromatophores of seahorses are controlled in 2 ways: 1 is by their nervous system; rapid camouflage is needed to avoid the predators. Another is hormones, which usually happens during the period of courtship and breeding. However, the hormones may cause a more controlled and slower change, which appear to be brighter and less delicate.
Brightness and Tone
The muscles attached to the chromatophores may push the pigment cells toward or even pull the pigment cells away from the seahorse’s skin surface. When the pigment is close to the skin's surface, the color would be more brilliant and brighter. In turn, the resulting color would be dull and less saturated when the pigment draws away from the skin's surface.
Building of Color
The colors to which seahorses can change are the results of 3 or 4 basic pigments that contain different chromatophores. The pigment cells of the chromatophores are stacked on top of each other or just clustered in groups together. That said, the color of the seahorse would then be based on the combination, type, and concentration of the cells on the skin’s surface.
Speed of Change
Chromatophores are being controlled by the nervous system of seahorses, depending on the stimulus that may cause the changing of colors of seahorses. When the nervous system activates the chromatophores, like life-or-death situations, the colors of animals will change rapidly. And when it’s activated by hormonal fluctuations, just like courting, the changing of colors become slow.
Reasons Why Seahorse Colors Change
There are plenty of reasons why seahorse colors change. Now that you know how seahorse changes their colors, then you should also know why it happens. Here are the reasons why:
Mimic the Surroundings
Seahorses are masters of camouflage. They can contact and increase the pigment cells in their skin. As a result, they can display brown, black, grey, golden, yellow, beige, and other patterns and colors. In their usual environment, this changing of colors ability could help them blend in their surroundings while they wait for their food and sit.
Hide from Predators
Another reason why seahorse colors change is that they could help them hide from their predators. Since they swim slowly, they need to mimic the surroundings to prevent predators. Their sudden and bold changes could even deter their enemies. In other words, it’s one of their ways to survive in the wild.
Another reason why seahorse colors change is to help them communicate during courtship. They are also individuals and prefer to change their colors quickly, especially the male seahorses. This is for them to ‘light up when they want to impress a female seahorse.
Seahorse colors change to help them communicate and show their emotions, most especially when they’re courting. It’s just so amazing that they change their colors to add to their personality. It could also help them deal with territorial disputes, or perhaps their age and other factors.
Other seahorse species may grow algae on their skin, usually seen in their natural environment. This is to help them camouflage with their environment. The algae growth on their skin may sometimes be seen in an aquarium, too, especially if there is brighter lighting.
So, don’t be worried if you happen to see algae growth on a seahorse because it is harmless. However, you should also not rub it off as it may irritate the skin of the seahorse, which may lead to secondary infections. In addition, the algae may appear as dark as they can, or there are times that it would appear like a film coating on their skin.
Seahorses are amazing and phenomenal sea creatures. They can change their colors is something you can’t seem to find with other animals. Of course, the seahorse color change is not just about being too cute or cool, but there are significant reasons behind it. It’s their way to survive and to keep up in the wild.
If you happen to see seahorses, just let them be. What’s important is that you will preserve their kind and do your best to take care of them. One way of taking care of them is through caring for the ocean. It’s their habitat, and without it, they can’t live anymore, same with other sea creatures.
Hopefully, you have learned and understood more about why seahorses change colors. In addition, if you want to show your care for the ocean and seahorses, you may check with Atolea Jewelry for Seahorse-inspired jewelry and other Ocean-inspired jewelry to wear. It’s one way of remembering their kind and always remembering that you need to take care of them.