Unlike most fishes, which lose their body shape and disintegrate into a smelly mush soon after death, members of the family Syngnathidae (as well as allied families in the suborder Syngnathoidei such as the sea-moths, Pegasidae) have their bodies tightly enclosed in a ring of bony plates, a sort of exoskeleton that lends rigidity and protection to the animals known as pipefish and seahorses. Thus, even in demise and dessication, their hollow shells remain as phantoms that serve as ghastly trinkets and testaments to unfounded beliefs that these marine equines, ground and gobbled up in capsules, will deliver a second life to dysfunctional ducks.
My duck hasn't had time to fully digest the contents of today's talk, but already, a few juicy facts have emerged. Seahorses, pipefish and their flamboyant cousins, the leafy and weedy seadragons, may seem live life in the slow lane, hindered by their stiff bodies and miniscule fins, but a close inspection reveals that they are among the true studs of the sea, reaching maturity at a rapid pace, followed by a relatively short life span filled with furious fucking. One large species, the pot-belly seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis) has been found to be utterly shameless flirts, and even blatantly sexperimental, notching multiple daily conquests with members of both genders. It does give a new meaning to the habitat known as seagrass beds... oh, to exchange my duck for a seahorse!
Dr. Martin-Smith also revealed that male seahorses boast some of the lowest sperm to egg ratios in the vertebrate world, down to an incredible 2:1. Considering that the rest of us poor ducks have to spurt out zillions of
ti da tous tail-lashing tadpoles that have a fool's chance of hitting the bull's eye and are more likely to end up languishing in a latex tube, seahorses deserve far more respect for the power of their juice. Instead of expending energy on producing countless condemned ducklets, the males and their mates engage in prolonged sessions of vigorous foreplay and mutual body massage, with bouts of ecstasy that sees them rising high above the foliage before actual copulation. And right after the big O, the ejaculate must swim against a tide of seawater and a narrow window of time to reach the unfertilised eggs in the male's brood pouch. Now, that's some milt with might!
The flip side of all this is that male seahorses and pipefish bear the primary burden of childcare – well, at least still the eggs hatch and the fry are shaken and stirred out of their stupor into wet and wild world. And while the male guards his brood, the female is free to fiddle with other boys' diddles. In some species of pipefish, the girls get really garang, assuming the conventional role of the male in the courtship ritual. The ladies are much more colourful than the guys as well as larger and more aggressive, and compete with their sisters to seduce the duller and smaller males. Some even have a penis-like structure used to deposit the eggs into the male's brood pouch. Dr. Martin-Smith notes that this reversal of sexual roles (a habit that would surely distress certain he-men who think that women must choose between career and children, while guys don't) has apparently evolved independently several times amongst Syngnathids. I wonder if this trait might emerge in ducks too...:P