A teeny cavalry has burst onto the scene at the Tennessee Aquarium, where one of the resident lined sea horses recently gave birth to more than 100 babies.
Captured on video, the little sea horses can be seen popping out of a hole in their father's belly. (In the sea horse world, it is the males who carry the young and give birth.)
Carol Haley, the aquarium's assistant curator of fishes, captured the speedy delivery on video with her cell phone in the last week of January.
"There was a male that was starting his abdominal crunches – that's exactly what it looks like," Haley said. "He was either going into convulsions or getting ready to have his babies."
Although lined sea horses, a particular species of sea horse, produce offspring at the Tennessee Aquarium every few weeks, it's hard to predict the event’s exact time. Haley said that in the 10 years the aquarium has kept sea horses, this is only the second birth she's ever seen.
"I've walked by a tank and there aren't any babies in there, and walked by 10 minutes later and it's full of babies," Haley told OurAmazingPlanet.
As the video shows, lined sea horses give birth in just a matter of moments. Haley said the process is almost more akin to hatching. Females lay eggs inside a male's pouch, where the eggs are fertilized, and, two to four weeks later, the fully formed young make their dramatic exit.
The aquarium’s newest brood of little sea horses is doing well, and another birth on Saturday has added to their number. Although only about 5 percent of the juveniles usually live to adulthood, that's a far higher survival rate than in the wild. With such an abundance of babies, the aquarium is planning to send some of the sea horses to other aquariums once they're big enough to travel.
The newly hatched young are each less than half an inch long. Fully grown lined sea horses are usually between 5 and 6 inches long.
Lined sea horses are native to the coastal waters of North America's eastern seaboard, stretching from Nova Scotia down to the warmer seas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Sluggish swimmers, the little fish rely on their mottled coloring — a range of brown, rust, gray, orange and black — for camouflage and the protection it brings.
All sea horse species are listed as vulnerable, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the organization that assesses the status of animal populations around the globe.
Some of the worldwide decline of sea horses has been linked to their use in traditional Chinese medicine.