A few weeks ago, my friend sent me a fascinating Youtube video about pygmy seahorses and their crazy camouflaging skills. Pygmy Seahorses: Masters of Camouflage (2:26)
**Fun fact: the pygmy seahorse’s scientific name is Hippocampus bargibanti. “Hippocampus” (or Hippokampus in Greek) literally means horse-sea monster. The hippocampus in the brain (associated mainly with memory retention) was so named because its shape resembles that of a seahorse. **
The video shows that two orange seahorses can actually produce offspring that camouflage to purple sea fans. Evidently, pygmy seahorses are born a shade of brown and then color coordinate with their chosen sea fan home. Talk about dressing to match! I can understand the whole color camouflage aspect as this occurs rather frequently in nature. However, the seahorses also grew bumps, or tubercles, to better match their sea fan’s texture! Plus, I loved that the video showed zooplankton bobbing around because I did my undergraduate research on copepods…extra bonus for me!
Digging further into seahorse camouflage, I found a short paper about a different type of seahorse that was found camouflaging with plastic debris (Camouflage of the seahorse Hippocampus reidi with plastic debris: an unusual type of protective resemblance). It is only a two-page paper because it is just an observational account of the seahorse’s behavior. It was interesting to come across this article but also rather sad. As plastic debris in the oceans increases and suitable habitat for marine animals decreases, this plastic camouflaging behavior may become more prevalent. If it goes to extremes, the ability of seahorses to camouflage with plastic may actually become a critical factor in seahorse adaptation and evolution.
The ability of animals to adapt to the ocean’s plastic epidemic is not unique to seahorses either. The publication about the plastic-adapting seahorses references another observation-based paper about a hermit crab in the Maldives using plastic as its shell (Use of plastic debris as shelter by an unidentified species of hermit crab from the Maldives). Sadly, these types of observations are likely to become more common before humans develop a way to reverse the plethora of plastic polluting the oceans. If you were unaware, yesterday was National Skip the Straw Day. It does not seem like it would make a big difference, but it is still important to make an effort to avoid single-use plasticware. If you do not believe me, or maybe need a stronger/more disturbing reminder, here is a video of some researchers removing a plastic straw from the nostril of an Olive Ridley sea turtle.