What Counts in the End


iD magazine - - Contents -

I Hunt the Fastest An­i­mal in the World

The most fas­ci­nat­ing and ef­fec­tive stealth fighter in the water is scarcely any larger than a thumb­nail: Hip­pocam­pus bargibanti pygmy sea­horses live among the glow­ing coral reefs of the Pa­cific Ocean. After see­ing this photo, you might sus­pect the pri­mary func­tion of this crea­ture’s ap­pear­ance is to con­ceal it from nat­u­ral preda­tors such as small fish. But the true pur­pose of its coral cam­ou­flage is ac­tu­ally to al­low it to get as close as pos­si­ble to un­sus­pect­ing prey. Be­cause what it feeds on is fast. Ex­tremely fast. When threat­ened, cope­pods can pro­pel them­selves away from a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion, cover­ing a dis­tance equiv­a­lent to 300 times their body length within just one sec­ond. In com­par­i­son: Even when run­ning at full speed, a chee­tah man­ages 30 body lengths. There­fore a high-speed chase isn’t a fea­si­ble op­tion for the sea­horse. So then how does a crea­ture that moves at just 0.006 miles per hour man­age to catch the fastest an­i­mal on the planet—which hap­pens to be a very tiny crus­tacean? Only by us­ing high- res­o­lu­tion high- speed cam­eras and su­per slow mo­tion have re­searchers now dis­cov­ered that Hip­pocam­pus bargibanti stays mo­tion­less for hours in the coral— just wait­ing for a cope­pod to float by within 2 mil­lime­ters of its mouth. Then the sea­horse thrusts its head for­ward and snaps its mouth shut, all in one-thou­sandth of a sec­ond. Too fast for the hu­man eye—and often, for the cope­pods—to re­act. The sea­horse’s rate of suc­cess is 79%—not at all bad for one of the slow­est sea crea­tures in the world.

In or­der to cap­ture their prey, sea­horses dig deep into their bag of tricks— so deep, in fact, that their hunt­ing tech­nique can only be seen in su­per slow mo­tion…

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