The most visible, and most dramatic, centers on courtship.
Most seahorses mate for life (though some, like my female Ceti, decide to somewhat literally change horses in midstream). The courtship and mating process involves tail-holding, mid-water “dancing” and often dramatic color changes.
My large male seahorse, Cygnus, is usually black (see the photo, left). During his ongoing courtship of Ceti, however, he frequently shifts to grey or even white. Ceti’s color changes are less dramatic – she usually opts to increase the contrast between her dark body scales and her white saddle markings.
When the seahorses mate – about once a month – they leave their usual “hitches” and swim together around the tank. They perform a watery dance called a “carousel” where they circle one another, sometimes holding tails.
The dance is important because seahorses mate in mid-water, with the female depositing eggs into the male’s pouch while swimming beside him.
This takes quite a bit of coordination. “Dropped eggs” are common – and Ceti takes it personally when Cygnus accidentally drops the clutch. She sulks and refuses to look him, no matter how dramatically he changes colors and tries to get her attention.
Within a day or two they’re hitching and swimming together again, practicing for the next month’s ritual dance.
Most people consider seahorses strange, unearthly creatures with little or no “personality,” but you don’t have to watch them for very long to realize what unique, individual creatures they really are. Cyg and Ceti are very attached to one another. They practice their ritual dances all the time. They also “hold tails” while sitting together or swimming, and they hate to be separated for very long.
Like humans, seahorses use bonding rituals to strengthen and maintain their relationships – though unlike humans, they don’t much like to share their dinner!
Do your pets have rituals? Have you ever seen animals impressing one another with ritual dances? Hop into the comments and let me know!!
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