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Totems: Seahorse, Part 1

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


Have you dreamed of me? Perhaps I’ve come swimming into your life so that you may finally release from your subconscious, your deep yearning to make a breakthrough in your life. My energy can help you accomplish great strides as a worthy partner in love, or to deepen your relationship with your children, or to let loose your creativity and express yourself as never before. I AM SEAHORSE. Though, for a time, I may hold onto something that anchors me, so that I do not drift away before the right and perfect time, when that time does arrive, my Medicine will help you catapult yourself into a new realm of possibilities, so that you may accomplish the great passion for which you were born. You just have to be willing to think about your raison d’etre – reason for being – in a new way, and hold it in sacred space. Are you ready to live an inspired and inspiring life?

Why don’t we start with a riddle: What has the head of a horse, the tail of a monkey, and a pouch like a kangaroo? You guessed it – Seahorse!

I’ve always been fascinated with seahorses. Even if you’ve never laid eyes on one, pictures of seahorses abound in books about Nature, and in children’s books, so to see a picture of them is to confirm that they are aptly named. Their horse-like heads and prehensile tails allow them to swim in an erect position, creating such an iconic image that their scientific name, Hippocampus means horse in Greek. The rippling of the dorsal fin in the back, enables them to undulate through the water and to stay erect.

The oldest fossil record of seahorses is from 13 million years ago. Seahorses inhabit multiple saltwater environments from temperate zones to the tropics. Six of the recognized forty-six species of seahorses are native to the United States and outlying territories, but seahorses can be found worldwide, except for the polar regions and non-temperate coastlines. They favor living in shallow water habitats (max 200 ft. deep) that have structure that they can hold onto, and which provide them with food and camouflage, like coral, mangrove tree roots, or dense seagrass. Seahorse totem can offer us ways to anchor ourselves, in a healthy way, in our families, our vocations, and society. As masters of camouflage, they provide protection. Their color and texture closely matches their environment, which helps them hide from predators. One can also find them in estuaries where salt water meets fresh river water.

Seahorses are incredibly interesting biologically. They have a life span of anywhere from less than one year to twelve years, but they commonly live two to six years. In captivity, they usually live at least four years. Large species tend to live longer than smaller ones. I was surprised to learn that they are classified as fishes (family: Syngnathidae – the pipefish family). In fact, they seem so unlike most fish, they were once thought of as marine insects. But they are fish – mostly because of the characteristics imposed upon them by the medium in which they live. Water imposes on them gills, fins, a swim bladder, their basic shape, way of breathing, method of locomotion, feeding, and reproducing. In turn, they have adapted to the niches they occupy, and their particular specialized aspects. Generally, they are small, but the Big-belly seahorse is fourteen inches in length.

Those elongated, tube-shaped mouths that look like a horse’s head function like a straw for eating, generating powerful vacuum action to suck in small, planktonic animals from the waters around them. And since they don’t have any teeth, they swallow their prey whole. They have to be patient, waiting for tiny crustaceans to drift by while holding onto sea grass or similar vegetation. Here’s a shocker! They may feed up to ten hours a day, swallowing over 3500 baby brine shrimp. Because their digestive systems don’t have stomachs, food quickly passes straight through. They have to eat that much to stay alive.

Now, we come to the most interesting, amazing biological aspect of all. Even though males do compete for access to females, it is the male seahorse that becomes pregnant. Honest! When the male begins to have a brood pouch – which is on their front side – that means that sexual maturity has arrived and mating can take place at any point during the breeding season. Mating begins with the male dancing around the female while he makes clicking sounds; however, it is the female that initiates courtship. Women – if you’ve had your eye on someone you wish to attract, the energetic appearance of seahorse is a fortuitous time to initiate and express your interest in that person. As with seahorse, there’s no rule of nature that says you can’t be the one to express interest first in a possible mate. And, like a biological horse, the energy of wild seahorse expresses itself in its desire to bond together with others of its kind.

A bonded seahorse pair begins to solidify and strengthen their courtship relationship long before actually mating. Every day, during the mating season, and perhaps beyond, the pair greet each other for at least a few minutes as they twirl around each other in a complex dance. They swim together, fluttering their fins, swimming parallel to each other, and entwining their tails. As the dance progresses, both males and females deepen their color, brightening visibly.

In the next stage of courtship, both wrap their tails around some coral or seagrass, as well as each other. Then, still entwined, they release from the seabed and float in the water, during which time the male pulls his tail back and pumps water in and out of his brood pouch to clean it. Finally, the male and female point their heads up to the surface, rise together in the water column, and line up belly to belly. The female then deposits her large, pear-shaped, unfertilized eggs into his pouch with her ovipositor. They are orange in color, a result of a crustacean diet full of carotenoid-rich oil. This stimulates him to produce sperm, which then fertilizes the eggs. The eggs embed, then become enveloped by the pouch wall lining from which a nourishing fluid is secreted. Blood-rich vessels provide nutrients and oxygen. Later, as birth nears, the pouch fluid becomes more clear. The male is pregnant for two to six weeks, depending on the species and on water temperature – the warmer the water temperature, the sooner the young will be born.

Males usually go into labor at night, and I know human females who have given birth will commiserate over the multiple hours-long labor filled with pumping and thrusting contractions that it takes for the male seahorse to expel his brood. The offspring, called fry arrive as fully formed adult seahorses, and that can’t be easy on dad as he gives birth – especially as it’s common for them to give birth to anywhere from five to a thousand at one time, depending on the species! Meanwhile, the female stays close to the male during labor, seemingly to reassure him, but also because, astonishingly, re-mating may occur just a few hours after the end of labor if their reproductive cycles are well synchronized. Sheesh! Wow! And apparently they don’t get tired of each other because seahorses are usually monogamous and mate for life. If you feel seahorse is a totem of yours, and are in a long-term marriage, there are definite advantages to having someone in your life for whom you are number one. Yes, there are difficulties maintaining such a relationship, but working through those is well worth the effort. Seahorse energy will help you emphasize the benefits of loving someone you can count on for life.

Baby seahorses are independent from birth, and must begin feeding soon after. Young develop rapidly, usually maturing within a year. Males who have seahorse as a totem may find that they enjoy being the one who is pivotal in the raising of their children, and preparing them to go out into the world. They often feel things we humans identify as maternal instinct. Does anyone around you need some mothering? Even though that usually has a female connotation, when seahorse energy is born, this also applies to the nurturing qualities that males may also express, especially toward those who cannot help themselves. For above all, seahorse energy is helpful and kind.

There is another kind of nurturing energy that seahorse embodies. It is the nurturing of one’s abilities and passions in life. What would you like to manifest in the next couple of months? Is there some form of creativity calling you, by putting into form what you see, think about, or envision? Are you willing to explore deeper ways of expressing these things, either in an art form, photographically, verbally, or in your actions?

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 45 years; author of this column for 21 years. Send me your email address if you wish to be notified with a link to Wisdom when a new Totems article comes out.

I am once again available for in-person healing sessions on an individual basis, as well as online sessions. Call or email for more details and to arrange an appointment.

Phone: 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

For a print version of Totems for Stewards of the Earth,Vol. 1 - delivery U.S., send $22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370


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