Male seahorses are the only animals to get pregnant and give birth


Male seahorses and their close cousins, pipefish and sea dragons are very rare as they get pregnant and give birth to their offspring. Instead of developing the baby seahorses in their wombs in a womb, like human mothers do, the male seahorse will carry the children in a pouch, similar to a kangaroo pouch.

How are seahorses different from all other animals?

The pipefish family includes seahorses. Seahorses have several intriguing characteristics apart from their famous looks. Among these are the chromatophores, which are specialized structures in their skin cells that allow largely sessile seahorses to change color to adapt to their environment. Seahorses are difficult to notice because they are well camouflaged as they cling to the stems of seagrass in their shallow environments.

Their true biological claim to fame, however, is that male seahorses and sea dragons can become pregnant and produce offspring, which is a unique adaptation in the animal kingdom.

Many, if not all, of the 47 known seahorse species, 14 of which were discovered recently in the 21st century, are in decline across the world. Wild seahorses were frequently collected for the aquarium trade until recently; they do poorly in aquariums. Captive-bred seas have shown promise as more resilient reservoir dwellers than their wild counterparts in recent years.

Also Read: Biologists Successfully Resurrected ‘Weird’ Yellow Cell In Marine Animals

How do male seahorses reproduce?

At first, the female seahorse places her mature eggs in the male’s brood pouch, where they are fertilized, after an elaborate court dance that can last for hours or days. The pregnant male’s abdominal region begins to undulate steadily towards the end of a gestation period that typically lasts two to four weeks, and powerful muscle contractions push out a few dozen to up to 1,000 fully grown baby seahorses into the body. surrounding water.

After that, the offspring are alone. Large litters are needed since only about 0.5 percent of babies survive to maturity.

After childbirth, the hippocampus father does nothing else for his offspring. They have to fend for themselves and hide from predators as they have no parents to protect them. The seahorse father does not eat for several hours after the birth of his daughter. If the infants are still around after that, they might have a good feast. That’s right, males will occasionally devour their own offspring.

Being a newborn seahorse is difficult. Only one or two of the hundreds of children born by the male will live to become adults and have children of their own.

Research published recently in PNAS was able to capitalize on this, and by observing different pregnancies in male seahorses and pipefish, they were able to identify the genes that allow them to carry to term without their immune system destroying the embryos.

The MHC II pathway was found to be altered in pregnant cynognathids; for pipefish this included deleting many genes, but for seahorses the route included a widely divergent invariant chain known as CD74. They believe this leads to an evolutionary compromise that sees a decrease in immune function in favor of the maintenance of non-auto-embryos, allowing, for the first time in the history of nature, to retain non-auto-embryos. .

This involved the loss of many genes in pipefish, but in hippocampi, the process involved a widely divergent invariant chain known as CD74. They believe this leads to an evolutionary compromise that sees a decrease in immune function in favor of maintaining non-autonomous embryos, allowing male pregnancy to occur for the first time in natural history (to our knowledge ).

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