Male seahorses have a lot in common with pregnant women

Graham Banton, an Aquarist at the SEALIFE London Aquarium. Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Male seahorses have more in common with pregnant women than previously thought.

Seahorses are the only family (Syngnathidae) in the animal kingdom where the male is responsible for pregnancy.

But what hasn’t been known until now is how male seahorses nourish and protect embryos in their pouch during the 24-day gestation period.

A study, co-authored by Dr Camilla Whittington from the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences, shows male seahorses play as much a part in nurturing embryos during pregnancy as female mammals.

Their role, other than as pouch provider, has been a mystery.

“Surprisingly, seahorse dads do a lot of the same things human mums do,” said Dr Whittington.

“Seahorse babies get a lot of nutrients via the egg yolk provided by their mothers but the pouch of the fathers has also evolved to meet the complex challenges of providing additional nutrients and immunological protection, and ensuring gas exchange and waste removal.”

She says the similarities between seahorse, mammal and lizard pregnancies revealed in the paper warrant further investigation.

The research is published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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